Two wins and a draw out of five games played is hardly terrible form, but timing is everything - and those wins started to feel like a long time ago when the New York Red Bulls lost 4-1 to Houston Dynamo on April 1. RBNY is currently on a three-match winless streak in which it has been outscored 7-2. Both losses (and all the goals) in that stretch were on the road, but that is scant consolation given that the team’s next game is also away from home.
RBNY is in Central Florida, the land of the Magic Kingdom, this weekend. The MLS schedule brings the Red Bulls to the brand new Orlando City Stadium on Church Street in downtown Orlando on Sunday, April 9. Images of the crowd at OCSC’s Purple Palace have already made their way around the league, but this will be RBNY’s first time experiencing it for themselves.
On the field, the Red Bulls can expect a more familiar challenge: OCSC striker Cyle Larin has three goals from his first three games of the new season. “The main thing with Larin is that he can be an option on the long ball but he is most dangerous in the box” said RBNY head coach Jesse Marsch, “Kaka won’t be available, but that midfield is very dangerous and that stadium will be loud.”
But Marsch maybe has more pressing concerns - or gegenpressing concerns, perhaps. His team has been misfiring since it started competitive play in 2017 back in February in CONCACAF Champions League. Tweaks to the tactics and formation intended to make the Red Bulls stronger defensively and more dynamic in attack have yet to deliver a truly, memorably, convincing performance. Marsch makes no effort to conceal that there is work to do get RBNY in to form: “There’s a lot of things to figure out with this group, I think our overall identity is in place.”
“Now it’s the details on who to count on, what to expect from certain guys. I know that the pieces are here now it’s about my job to encourage the right things as there is growth every day,” he told reporters at RBNY training.
At least the spate of injuries the Red Bulls carried out of Houston last week seem to be clearing up. Fredrik Gulbrandsen didn’t play against the Dynamo but is said to be fit to play in Orlando, maybe Aurelien Collin will be available also. Connor Lade will be a game-time decision.
Orlando will be missing its biggest name, Kaka, injured since Week 1 of MLS 2017. But the league has cast this match as a clash of two goal-scoring titans: the red-hot young Canadian Larin and Bradley Wright-Phillips, the most prolific and consistent goal-scorer in MLS over the last three seasons but off to a slow start by his standards (which is to say he has three goals in seven games in all competitions this year: respectable, but not exceptional).
If the Red Bulls can get their press going in a consistent manner and can feed BWP sufficiently to get him back to making solid runs and converting chances, then the team can surely get back to winning ways. But OCSC will be backed by a home crowd keen to see Orlando’s 100% record in its new stadium extended. And Larin is in goal-a-game form.
This will be a fantastic Sunday afternoon in the land of the Mouse, with downtown Orlando hosting a big, national, televised broadcast. The cavernous Citrus Bowl has been replaced by the brand new comfy digs of Orlando City Stadium. And no visitor has been able to spoil Orlando’s party yet. Personally, I can’t wait.