The 2017 season is underway for the New York Red Bulls, and the team is in the midst of a string of opening days. February 22 was RBNY’s 2017 season-opener: a lightly-attended CONCACAF Champions league quarterfinal against Vancouver Whitecaps. February 28 saw the team in Vancouver for the second leg of that match-up - and a disappointing exit from CCL. Leaving the Caps to celebrate winning their 2017 home-opener and a place in the CCL semifinals, the Red Bulls went straight to Georgia to prep for their MLS-opener against Atlanta United. That game brought a happy ending for RBNY: a huge comeback victory on the road in a raucous Bobby Dodd Stadium that saw over 55,000 yelling and screaming for their new side to earn their first win in their first-ever MLS outing.
Heading back to Harrison victorious after a double-game week on the road was a welcome boost, but there was little time to savor the win. In Canada, Gonzalo Veron had gone down with a hamstring injury, and somewhere along the way the Red Bulls decided Gideon Baah was not going to be able to contribute this year’s MLS campaign. Managing injuries to key players was a constant issue last season, and the injury bug is biting again at the start of 2017. It must be a little frustrating for head coach Jesse Marsch, who once again found himself discussing injuries instead of the game ahead with media at the Red Bull Training Facility:
Gonzalo will be out this weekend, he’s still nursing it for a little bit, but he’s started jogging and he might be back next Friday - we will be cautious not to re-injure. On Gideon: it’s hard for everyone to figure out how to get him healthy, but we are all going to work hard to get him 100% fit.
Back on Gonzalo: he is very upset because once he starts to establish himself, then another injury happens - and we need to get him back to perform on the field, it’s just a question of how to get him back on track.
Of course, the Red Bulls have their MLS home-opener to play on March 11 against the Colorado Rapids. The players are aware they will face one of the league’s most disciplined defensive units and effective counter-attacking teams.
“They are certainly a team that can win 1-0, we have seen that. Our first three games we have allowed the first goal and we want to avoid that,“ said Sacha Kljestan. “Colorado is a bit like Vancouver, not Atlanta. They sit back well and they have their block of eight to nine guys, so they block very deep. They were the best defensive team last year and we need to take advantage of any chances we get.”
The Red Bulls are on a frustrating run against the Rapids: RBNY hasn’t beaten Colorado since 2012, when the team shrugged off a losing start to the season to trounce the Rapids with a 4-1 win that brought two goals from Thierry Henry and two from Kenny Cooper. That was a home-opener too, as it happens.
But in four games over the past four seasons, RBNY has two home draws and two road losses to show for its efforts against Colorado.
Every team wants to win its home games, and the Red Bulls are no different. While there is no particular rivalry with the Rapids, this match will get a little extra attention because of the presence of one of the best keepers in the country on the Colorado roster. New Jersey native Tim Howard got his start with the MetroStars and is a club legend. If he can prove his fitness, he’ll be in goal for the Rapids.
“Obviously he’s very experienced and goalkeepers tend to get better with age, their physical limitation doesn’t hinder them as field players - so Tim has gotten stronger as he has gotten older,” said Kljestan.
But the RBNY captain has been around the game a long time, and has already got a plan to test Tim Howard if the opportunity arises: “We shall see how sharp he will be in his first game not playing for four months, but the challenge will be there with an athletic keeper - either shooting low or getting him off his line.”
Bradley Wright-Phillips respects Howard’s achievements and ability, but preferred to talk about the man who is the most successful ‘keeper RBNY (or the MetroStars) has even known. Luis Robles will break former LA Galaxy and Sporting KC midfielder Chris Klein‘s record for consecutive league appearances with a start against Colorado. It will be a big day for the RBNY ‘keeper, and BWP was full of praise for a teammate he credits with helping him raise his game: “When you train with a guy like him they are very tough to beat; once you train all week with those guys you can improve.”
While the ‘keepers are celebrated on the field, the coaches will match wits on the sidelines. Jesse Marsch knows Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni from his playing days, and is looking forward to the renewed challenge of coaching against a man whose career has intertwined with his own: “Pablo and I had a lot of good matches when we were players. Thinking of guys that I enjoyed playing against through the years, I think of him, Ben Olsen is another. There are different guys that played your position and playing against them, it was a healthy challenge on the day.”
And the RBNY coach sees playing the Rapids under Mastroeni as very similar to playing Pablo back in their respective days on the field:
His team plays with the fight and passion that he has. They resemble his character and personality and we will have to match that and be ready for that.
The game kicks off at Red Bull Arena at 4:00 pm, Eastern, on Saturday, March 11.