The New York Red Bulls have adjusted their plans again, turning away from rain-soaked Sacramento to take a slightly longer time in Tucson than had originally been intended for this stage of the preseason. The loss of a friendly against one of the better-supported and more successful teams in USL is not a small thing. As RBNY head coach Jesse Marsch said to the club's communications team after the squad had diverted itself to Arizona, the side is missing out on "a chance to get a real game in front of a real crowd".
But there is little time to dwell on what might have been. Characteristically, Marsch was positive and forward-looking in his assessment of how RBNY will be using the dwindling time it has before its season-opener on February 22. At short notice, the team has successfully found a new opponent to play this weekend: FC Tucson. The game won't be the same as playing Sacramento Republic, but Marsch has a clear sense of his current priorities and how Tucson will help RBNY meet its objectives for preseason. The value of the game is, first and foremost, that it gives the team a chance to get some game-time into its legs:
Minutes-wise, more than anything - you know, I think our group understands that when we play a lesser opponent that there's still a lot to be gained from it. We create certain rules within the games to make sure that we're still on top of all the details. And when you play these teams they're still really excited about the opportunity, so we know FC Tucson will give us everything they have and we're going to use it fitness-wise, but soccer-wise and tactically to make sure we get everything we need out of it.
Fitness is an obvious preseason priority, but perhaps one made a little more urgent for RBNY this year because it will be playing competitive games a little earlier than usual (CONCACAF Champions League starts up on February 22), and because the preseason has been a tad "disjointed" - as Luis Robles put it in recent comments out of the current Arizona training camp.
The gang's all here! #RBNY pic.twitter.com/rHoZ54cV4S— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) February 11, 2017
As RBNY assistant coach Chris Armas notes in that video, "it's the first time that we've had pretty much our full group together": less than two weeks before the season-opener, the first team is more or less all together for the first time in 2017.
Marsch is not pretending that the time available is adequate for the task of getting his first-choice team to full match fitness and sharpness by February 22. Bradley Wright-Phillips, for example, has only recently started training with the squad again after taking a brief moment of paternity leave to welcome another child to his family. "Come February 22, will he be at 100%? Probably not, but I think we'll get him close," Marsch told RBNY's comms team.
The Red Bulls never had a lot of time to work with this preseason, and it isn't clear to what extent abbreviated preparations for CONCACAF Champions League have been complicated by events such as Dax McCarty's sudden and swift departure from the squad and the continuing silence regarding absentee sporting director Ali Curtis.
What is clear is RBNY knows it has to be ready for a CCL challenge on February 22, and getting fit for that challenge remains the priority of the team's efforts in training camp.