The New York Red Bulls squad that will face Vancouver Whitecaps on February 22 in CONCACAF Champions League played its last 2017 friendly in Arizona on February 15: a friendly that transplanted the local rivalry with NYCFC to Tucson’s Kino Sports Complex.
The Red Bulls have made it a habit to win historic first encounters against their pale blue rivals, and they duly won the first preseason match between the teams, 2-0. RBNY’s newly-minted club captain, Sacha Kljestan, bagged a brace in his first appearance as the first-team’s first-choice armband wearer. Now Tucson is red too.
The opening goal came in the 23rd minute. Bradley Wright-Phillips found Gonzalo Veron, but he was double-defended by NYCFC. The enterprising Veron wriggled out of traffic and attacked the net, dragging the defense with him - then cut the ball back to Kljestan, who had time and space to pick his spot.
In the 43rd minute, Captain Kljestan got his second. Daniel Royer eased the ball through a thicket of defenders, and Kljestan hit a first-time shot perfectly.
NYCFC could have got a little more out of the game. In the 38th minute, Aurelien Collin went in too hard to stop Khiry Shelton. The scything tackle stopped Shelton’s in-the-box run, but also drew a penalty. Sean Okoli stepped up to take the kick, but his stuttering run-up seemed to confuse him more than RBNY ‘keeper Luis Robles. A down-the-middle shot at an agreeable height was a confidence-boosting save opportunity for the Red Bulls’ stopper.
All told, it was a solid run for the senior squad - more or less what the players might have wanted from their final rehearsal before the 2017 season begins. Next time Captain Kljestan leads the Red Bulls on to the field, it will be for CCL: two goals and a clean sheet would count for a great deal in that game.