The New York Red Bulls' 2017 preseason is sort of just getting started. Senior players Luis Robles, Sacha Kljestan, and Bradley Wright-Phillips have joined the squad's training camp after missing the first preseason trip of the year for various reasons (well, two reasons: USMNT duty and paternity leave - or both, in Kljestan's case). Recently re-signed center back Damien Perrinelle has also just found his way back to the team.
On paper, all four have landed just in time to join RBNY for the most testing part of this year's preseason schedule: a final stretch of four games in 10 days against MLS opposition, starting February 15 against NYCFC. In practice, however, the veterans have arrived just in time to prove their fitness and ability to contribute to Red Bulls' season-opener on February 22.
As Jesse Marsch made clear in his post-game comments to media after RBNY's scrimmage with FC Tucson on February 11, the only schedule he is concerned about is the countdown to February 22:
We have 11 days, we're under a little bit of a time crunch, but we'll be ready.
Marsch's chat was encouraging for those who want to see RBNY focused on CONCACAF Champions League. The club's preseason preparation has not been ideal, and MLS gives its teams plenty of room for excuses about the difficulties of getting ready for the regional tournament. But the Red Bulls' head coach does not seem inclined to duck the challenge.
For us being in this Champions League tournament, it means that basically we have like a four-week window - which is incredible how short an amount of time that is to try to prepare for one of our biggest matches, if not our biggest match, of the entire season. It's tested us in a lot of different ways, but I think in some ways it's good because it's put a real urgency into what we've done every day.
RBNY's season starts on February 22, and it starts with the most important games the team is guaranteed to play this season. The year might hold bigger prizes, but there is nothing on the current schedule as significant as a CCL quarterfinal. At least, that seems to be the way the Red Bulls see the task ahead and that is good news for fans who want to see the team start the year with a good-faith and positive effort to win the biggest prize available to a CONCACAF club.