This piece was published early in the morning of Tuesday, January 3, 2017. And it is to be hoped that it ceased to be relevant before the sun set on its first day of existence.
The New York Red Bulls have been relatively quiet up to this point in the MLS off-season. They have renewed a few contracts, allowed a few players to leave the club, lost Chris Duvall to the league's expansion process, ignored three drafts (waiver and two iterations of re-entry), and allowed very few whispers about their plans to retool the roster to leak out.
That is not to say RBNY's staff has not been busy. We know there have been combines (attended and held). We know the coaching team went to Leipzig. We know there is the MLS Combine and SuperDraft fast approaching. We know there are at least two out-of-contract players the team wants to bring back for 2017, and at least one new face who has been approached about signing with RBNY. There is activity, there just isn't a lot being said about it.
But that is surely about to change. The holiday season is over. The new year is underway. The RBNY Comms Department is suggesting it finally has news to share.
Many fans might be hoping that tease is about a new signing, since RBNY's roster looks a little thin (there isn't really a back line under contract yet) and NYRB II's is even thinner. But Once A Metro is hoping it is about the first team's preseason schedule.
The MLS preseason officially starts on January 23. For RBNY, it ends on February 22: the date of the team's 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg against Vancouver Whitecaps. The first job the Red Bulls have in 2017 is to fashion a preseason that puts the first team in the best possible position to be competitive on February 22.
Vancouver has the same challenge, and announced how it plans to approach it on December 1. The Whitecaps' preseason schedule sees the team head to Wales on January 23. It returns from that training camp on February 3. On February 7, the team heads to (not so far away) Portland for a tournament that will bring three games against MLS opponents (Minnesota on February 9; Real Salt Lake on February 12; Portland Timbers on February 15). Then it's home to Vancouver on February 16, and off to New York on February 20. The 'Caps kick off against RBNY in CCL at Red Bull Arena on February 22.
It's a pretty good use of time, under the circumstances. Here it is again:
Jan 23: Travel to Wales
Feb 3: Back to Vancouver
Feb 7: Travel to Portland
Feb 9: play Minnesota United at Providence Park, Portland
Feb 12: play RSL at Providence Park, Portland
Feb 15: play Portland Timbers at Providence Park, Portland
Feb 16: back to Vancouver
Feb 20: Travel to New York
Feb 22: play RBNY at Red Bull Arena, Harrison, NJ
CCL's February start to its knockout rounds puts MLS teams under some pressure, but at least Vancouver and RBNY have the benefit of playing another team facing the same circumstances - at least in the quarterfinals.
The Red Bulls have a preseason plan, and maybe it was communicated to the players a while back. Maybe it's just the fans who don't really know what the club has planned for perhaps the most important preseason of its existence (because it is the first time RBNY has had to contemplate starting the season with, in effect, playoffs).
We'll find out soon. Hopefully.
For now, what can be cobbled together about the Red Bulls' preseason comes mostly from the published plans of other MLS teams.
Portland Timbers expect to play RBNY on January 27 at the Kino Sports Complex in Tucson, Arizona. Real Salt Lake thinks it will play RBNY on January 31, also in Tucson. New England Revolution believes it has a game against RBNY scheduled for February 3, in Casa Grande, Arizona.
And it has been announced that RBNY will play in the Desert Diamond Cup in Tucson. The team is penciled in for a game against Sporting Kansas City on February 18. And the all that is revealed about the rest of the tournament is that there will be a final set of games on February 25.
Hold up, RBNY. Um...you have a game in Harrison on February 22. And a game in Vancouver on March 2. Those are competitive games, and preparing for them is the primary point of your preseason.
Your plan is...hold on, I need to sit down...your plan is to play three games in the first 11 days of preseason (Vancouver is Wales during this time, probably playing a few friendlies too), then take a 15-day stretch for other preparations, then return to friendlies on February 18? And then fly to Harrison, play a quick CCL game, and then jet back to Arizona for the conclusion of an entirely meaningless tournament? And then what? Head straight to Vancouver; head back to Harrison and then to Canada? Is air travel part of the conditioning process?
Here's that 2017 RBNY preseason plan as best we can tell again:
Jan 23: presumably head to Arizona
Jan 27: play Portland in Tucson
Jan 31: play RSL in Tucson
Feb 3: play New England in Casa Grande
Feb 4 - Feb 17: back to Harrison? stay in Arizona? collect underpants, ???, profit?
Feb 18: play Sporting Kansas City in Tucson
Feb 19: travel back to Harrison (?)
Feb 22: play Vancouver in Harrison (CCL quarterfinal)
Feb 25: play TBD in Tucson
March 2: play Vancouver in Vancouver (CCL quarterfinal)
March 5: play Atlanta United in Atlanta (MLS season opener)
Traditionally - by which is meant for every single preseason the twice-named team has ever had (unless I'm reading MetroFanatic's impeccable archives wrong) - RBNY has sought to give itself about a week between its last preseason game and its first competitive game of the year.
This is, of course, not the traditional RBNY preseason: it's shorter and the start will be more intense than usual. An unusual approach is to be expected, or at least excused. But there is a line (and not even a fine one) between unusual and demented.
Playing three games in three different time zones in 10 days is challenging. Choosing to play three games in three different time zones in 10 days seems deranged. It is possible, of course, that RBNY plans to field a different team in Desert Diamond Cup while the CCL squad focuses its energy on Vancouver (there is NYRB II's roster to figure out, after all). It is possible that the plan as it appears is entirely wrong and the club will announce its true intentions in due course. It is equally possible that the air miles bonanza masquerading as a preseason schedule is actually what RBNY intends to do. And it is possible that frantically zig-zagging the continent makes sense when just a little context is added.
We will find out. Maybe as soon as January 3.
The Red Bulls are under no obligation to let their fans know what they intend to do with their preseason, but they will surely do so - and whenever they do, we hope the plan makes more sense than the one that appears to be in place at the moment.