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Three Thoughts: New York Red Bulls beat FC Tucson, 3-1, in 2017 preseason friendly

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A return to winning ways for RBNY in its penultimate preseason friendly before the 2017 season kicks off with the CCL quarterfinals.

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

For the second game in a row in this preseason (third, if you count a 45-minute scrimmage against University of Arizona - which you really shouldn't), the New York Red Bulls played a friendly in a location beyond the reach of what is necessary for a live stream - so for the second game in a row this is a game reaction to a game Once A Metro didn't see.

Between them, the RBNY and FC Tucson Twitter feeds supplied a decent account of the game:

Three cautious thoughts on a game that was largely invisible to this observer:

1. Only three substitutes: fitness levels are improving

The Red Bulls are hurtling toward their first competitive game of the year. On February 15 they will play their last friendly before the February 22 season-opener against Vancouver Whitecaps in CONCACAF Champions League. Fitness is an important component of RBNY's relentless gegenpressing style, and head coach Jesse Marsch has repeatedly emphasized the preseason priority of getting players fit for February 22.

To that end, it would appear the Red Bulls are making pleasing progress. We know there are injuries in the camp. Some explained, like Justin Bilyeu's broken hand. Some uncertain, like Alex Muyl's status since he was forced to leave the field by a hard challenge during RBNY's run-out against New England Revolution.

But it seems safe to assume the squad has more than 14 match-ready players in it. Nonetheless, the Red Bulls only used 14 players against FC Tucson: the starting lineup plus second-half subs Kemar Lawrence, Brandon Allen, and Derrick Etienne. That suggests the team is focusing in quickly on getting players back into the rhythm of 90-minutes on the field. This was a friendly, Marsch could have used as many subs as he had available - but he used only three, which happens to be the same number he'll be allowed to use in CONCACAF Champions League on February 22.

In his post-match chat, Marsch confirmed that fitness levels were better than he had perhaps expected: "Some guys played more minutes than we had planned on because they were fitter than we had planned on because they were fitter than we thought and we know that we need to start to stockpile minutes to get ready for the 22nd."

With just one friendly remaining - against NYCFC on February 15 - before the first team heads back to Harrison to prepare for Vancouver's visit, we might not see the players outside Marsch's projected CCL match-day 18 until after the squad splits into those who will be facing the Whitecaps and those who will stay in Arizona to see out RBNY's commitment to the Desert Diamond Cup preseason tournament.

But if the first-teamers' fitness levels are already a little ahead of Marsch's expectations, that bodes well for the team's overall preparations to take on an opponent dealing with the same compressed MLS preseason and the same challenge of finding appropriate match fitness for February 22. The best team might not win the CCL quarterfinal between the Red Bulls and Vancouver, the series might simply go to the fitter side - so any suggestion RBNY is tracking ahead of fitness expectation is good news.

2. Justin Bilyeu has a role to play in CCL

Despite his broken hand and the presence of presumptive starting left back Kemar Lawrence in the squad, Justin Bilyeu started against FC Tucson and played the majority of the game. He was eventually subbed out around the 65th minute.

Bilyeu's place in the starting lineup suggested he might have a more significant role to play in CCL than had perhaps been imagined. Lawrence has been called up to Jamaica's squad for a February 16 friendly in Houston against Honduras. That suggests he won't be available for RBNY's February 15 friendly against NYCFC, which would make the game against FC Tucson Marsch's last chance to see his first-choice left back put in significant minutes in combination with other first-teamers.

We'll find out if that speculation is accurate when RBNY plays NYCFC, but what we know is Bilyeu got the start against FC Tucson and got an extended run even though he is nursing an injury. Post-match Marsch confirmed he has CCL plans for the man it had been assumed was the team's reserve left back: "We're kind of trying to ramp him up a little bit...I thought overall he had a really good game - and you know we're going to be counting on him come Champions League time, so it was good for him to get some minutes and play well."

Lawrence looked to have taken a knock during RBNY's opening game of this preseason, and his second-half run against FC Tucson was his first appearance for the Red Bulls since. He was also reportedly held out of Jamaica's February 3 friendly against the USA because of injury. Perhaps his fitness isn't quite where Marsch is hoping it would be, perhaps the coach simply wanted to be certain Bilyeu can play with a still-healing hand. A much larger body of evidence is required to suggest that Bilyeu has leapfrogged Lawrence on RBNY's depth chart, but it seems he is being groomed for a bigger role in the forthcoming CCL fixtures than most observers would have predicted.

3. We could have used VAR in this one

When RBNY's first goal was scored, it was a little surprising that the team's official Twitter account didn't identify the scorer.

We learned it was Sal Zizzo's goal from FC Tucson.

But RBNY comms man Andrew Vazzano revealed why the club might have been some reluctance to immediately name the player who opened the scoring.

The Red Bulls' next preseason game is slated to have a Video Assistant Referee, so any such doubts should be cleared up during the mandatory review of such plays by the officiating crew.