It is finally here. The New York Red Bulls first competitive match since falling to Toronto FC in the semi-finals of the MLS Cup playoffs in November. After another season of “almost”, the Red Bulls faithful were hoping for big changes to the team sheet, and they were not disappointed.
The departure of Sacha Kljestan was an almost welcomed change to the team, with RB Salzburg midfielder Marc Rzatkowski and Argentine midfielder Alejandro “Kaku” Romero joining the ranks. The team will still feature the household names of Bradley Wright-Phillips and Luis Robles, but some of the supporting cast will be a bit different.
The team heading into the match is all but confirmed, with Marsch saying the reserve team will be finishing out preseason. The thing that is still unknown is exactly which players will be in the starting 11.
One player that could see increased play time this season, as well as a start vs. Olimpia, is forward Alex Muyl. After limited production last season, Muyl knew he needed to start the 2017/18 season off right. He scored three pre-season goals and finds himself in great form heading into this match. It will be hard to lock down a spot in the midfield, but if he continues his form, Muyl could be an attacking force on the right for New York.
Marsch will have a big task on his hands with New York playing away in Costa Rica. The match will be played behind closed doors, with no fans from either side allowed. This has been talked up as an advantage to the Red Bulls, who would have apparently had a tough time if the Olimpia faithful were in attendance.
Fans or not, the Red Bulls need to show up and put Olimpia on their heels heading into the second leg. With the game being at a neutral venue, it is almost as if Olimpia has two away matches. New York should use this to their advantage, coming out strong in the first half to try and stun the Honduran side.
An away goal is absolutely necessary heading into their following match at Red Bull Arena on March 1st. It will make Olimpia’s task that much harder by forcing them to press for a goal, leaving room for New York’s deadly counter attack.
There is still a bit of doubt heading into the season about the Red Bulls’ ability to defend. Veteran Aurelien Collin is expected to start against Olimpia, but the Frenchman has been under fire for his play. Collin has taken criticism for his quickness, though, the 31-year-old has never been labeled as a speedster by any measure.
This is where newly acquired center back Tommy Redding might have come into play. Along with forward Carlos Rivas, Redding came over from Orlando City in the trade that sent Kljestan to the Floridian club. Being just 21, Redding could have been a much quicker option for Marsch to use in the match against Olimpia - but he’s been left in Arizona with the reserves, suggesting it will be a while before he makes a first-team appearance.
Overall, the match with Olimpia will be the first glance at the strongest Red Bulls team (minus Kaku as he was a late addition to the squad and is not considered match-ready just yet). This absolutely seems like a winnable match for New York, but it should not be taken lightly just because the opponent is outside of the MLS or Liga MX. All eyes will be on Marsch’s team selection, but as long as the result ends up positive, most players will just be happy to get the new season underway.