The New York Red Bulls have completed the first phase of their 2017 preseason. Three friendlies have been played (plus 45 minutes against the University of Arizona men's team), delivering a win (over Portland Timbers) and two losses(to Real Salt Lake and New England Revolution).
The results don't matter too much. What RBNY has been seeking to do is reacquaint itself with the 4-2-2-2 formation it started but couldn't finish last season, get fit, and identify the group that will contest the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal matches that mark the beginning of the team's 2017 season. The first of those matches is on February 22: the Red Bulls have a little under three weeks to be ready for CCL.
Or, as Jesse Marsch put it to his squad after the friendly against New England: "We have two games left. Two games left and then we're ready to go."
The remaining RBNY preseason schedule is actually five games, but Marsch was simply confirming what we already thought we knew (Matt Harmon mentioned it during his commentary when RBNY scrimmaged with the Timbers) or had guessed: the team that will play CCL will peel away from preseason after the February 15 friendly against NYCFC.
RBNY 2017 Preseason: Phase Two
February 8: travel to Sacramento
February 10: @ Sacramento Republic
February 15: vs NYCFC - Desert Diamond Cup, Tucson, AZ
February 18: vs Sporting Kansas City - Desert Diamond Cup, Tucson, AZ
February 22: vs Houston Dynamo - Desert Diamond Cup, Tucson, AZ
February 25: vs TBD - Desert Diamond Cup, Tucson, AZ
Marsch gave a pretty good sense of who we can expect to see in the CCL squad in his post-Revs comments:
We've got some important games coming up. Especially with a lot of you guys in the first half, we've got to find a way to keep you guys going now, really with an eye on the 22nd.
That first-half lineup against New England was:
STARTING XI: Meara; Zizzo, Collin, Long, Bilyeu; Felipe, Davis, Royer, Muyl; Veron, Findley#NYvNE #RBNY— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) February 3, 2017
To that group can be added most or all of the absentees from this first phase of preseason. Luis Robles and Sacha Kljestan have been preseasoning in USMNT's January training camp (and Dax McCarty was traded, so he no longer features in RBNY's plans). Damien Perrinelle has been re-signed, and will presumably join the squad shortly. Gideon Baah and Connor Lade are at different stages of recovery from serious injury, with Lade seemingly closer to availability for 2/22 than Baah (the former was with the squad in Arizona; the latter was not). Bradley Wright-Phillips has just welcomed a new addition to his family, and is expected to return to training soon. Kemar Lawrence was held out of the Revs game - and Jamaica's match against USMNT - but does not appear to be a serious injury concern.
Mike Grella's recent surgery would seem to make him an unlikely candidate for the CCL squad. He joins Baah and Lade as the primary injury worries in the presumptive first-team squad. Alex Muyl is a late addition to that list, though it is not yet clear how serious a knock he took against the Revolution on February 3.
Marsch's comments to his team in Arizona are obviously not contractually binding. He can pick anyone he pleases to play the Vancouver Whitecaps in February 22 - as long as they are on RBNY's roster. It might be significant, for example, that Derrick Etienne has been first off the bench in the last couple of friendlies.
It will be interesting to see whether Marsch truly meant to include Robbie Findley on the list of players he implied were CCL bound. The MLS and USMNT veteran has started every preseason game to date for RBNY. His contributions have not been conspicuously good or bad. The next phase of preseason will reveal whether Findley has a role to play for the Red Bulls this year.
For the players who will be RBNY's first team on February 22, there are two games left of the 2017 preseason: February 10 against Sacramento and February 15 against NYCFC. And the remaining Red Bulls, II-teamers and trialists will see out the club's commitment to Desert Diamond Cup, using the exhibition tournament to make their own cases for roles in the coming MLS or USL season.
Two games left, and then RBNY's 2017 begins in earnest.