No fresh injury concerns reported by the New York Red Bulls since players returned from the November international break - though head coach Chris Armas did express frustration with (now former) USMNT coach Dave Sarachan’s decision to keep Tyler Adams and Aaron Long on the field for the entirety of the Nats’ friendly against Italy on November 20.
If there is a knock to a regular starter in the RBNY camp, we’ll most likely find out about it in the usual way: when the official lineup drops.
Absent any injury news, there is no reason to believe the Red Bulls’ preferred starters of the moment are not all fit and available for selection. The team has a maximum of three games left in its season, and if this one gets away from them it will feel as though the season is over. So it seems reasonable to suggest Armas will put what he thinks of as his Best XI on the field.
Predicted Lineup: Luis Robles; Kemar Lawrence, Aaron Long, Tim Parker, Michael Murillo; Sean Davis, Tyler Adams; Daniel Royer, Kaku, Alex Muyl; Bradley Wright-Phillips
The 2018 Red Bulls own the MLS regular-season points record, there’s no need to overthink this. They play their way, with the available players best suited to that task, and it works out more often than not this year. That only need hold true for three more games for RBNY to get what it wants out of this season, so expect RBNY to keep doing what it knows it can do well.
That said, Armas and his technical staff will have had to give some thought to players’ fitness levels and recovery requirements. Several of the players in the predicted starting XI above were active for their national teams last week. And some were asked to be more active than others.
Kemar Lawrence played 90 minutes for Jamaica, but that was on November 17, so he has been back with the Red Bulls for more or less a week. Long and Adams played a full 90 minutes against Italy in Belgium on November 20, and Adams had about 30 minutes against England on November 15. Michael Murillo played two full games for Panama in less than a week - on November 16 and November 20. Kaku only played about half an hour for Paraguay on November 20, but he had to go all the way to South Africa to do it.
And potential replacements might be a bit weary also. Fidel Escobar played the same games and the same minutes as Murillo. Derrick Etienne played a full 90 for Haiti on November 17, but like Lawrence, he returned to the Red Bulls without any further exertion. Cristian Casseres played two full games for Venezuela U-20s, but the last of those was on November 18. Hassan Ndam doesn’t appear to have played for Cameroon U-23s in the international break, but did join the camp in Cameroon and travel with the team to Chad for an Africa U-23 Cup of Nations qualifying series that concluded on November 20.
Of the squad’s active national-teamers, Armas was likely most concerned about those who had played significant time or traveled significant distances in the middle of last week. He has to think not just about today’s game, but also the second leg of this series on November 29 - just four days away. So pencil in question marks over the availability of Aaron Long, Tyler Adams, Kaku, Hassan Ndam, Fidel Escobar, and Michael Murillo. In particular, Murillo - who will have played four full games in 14 days if he starts and finishes both legs of the Eastern Conference Final.
Still, there’s no point saving starters’ legs for the first leg if it puts RBNY into a hole too deep to climb out of when the series moves to Red Bull Arena. There will time to rest in the off-season. For now, whatever energy the players have is owed to the task of keeping this season alive beyond November 29, and that tasks starts with a favorable result in Atlanta on November 25.