With the end-of-year festivities concluded, MLS has kicked into 2019 with some enthusiasm. Only somewhat overshadowed by the news that Christian Pulisic will be leaving Borussia Dortmund because Chelsea offered ALL the money for his signature, teams around MLS have started the new year with some fanfare: San Jose Earthquakes have a new signing; LA Galaxy has a new head coach; Toronto FC has a shiny new rumor about comings and goings in its front office; Portland Timbers have a new logo - all announcements made on the first working day of 2019.
What of the New York Red Bulls? The New York Red Bulls have the Supporters’ Shield, thank you very much.
Glorious as it is to have the Shield back where it belongs, RBNY will soon have to turn its attention to preparation for the new season - which will start on February 20 in Dominican Republic with the opening leg of a CONCACAF Champions League round of 16 series against Atletico Pantoja.
Players are due to report for preseason on January 21, which means the Red Bulls won’t have a lot of time to knit together a squad that is fit and ready for CCL. Fortunately, this particular challenge is one RBNY has grown accustomed to in recent years - this will be the third consecutive campaign in which the team’s season-opener will be a late-February CCL series.
Back in 2017, the Red Bulls’ preseason prep was not ideal: they were under-cooked for a CCL series against Vancouver Whitecaps and got bounced out of the competition before the MLS season had even started. But 2018 went much better; the first team was still playing CCL in the first week of April, while reserve-heavy lineups carried RBNY through an entirely respectable (indeed crucial - the Red Bulls won the Shield by two points in 2018 and they had six by the end of March) 2-and-2 record over the opening month of the MLS regular season.
Clearly, the Red Bulls will be aiming to match or improve upon last year’s start to the season, while it can be hoped that 2017 (a turbulent off-season in which the club abruptly jettisoned both a sporting director and a captain) was merely an aberration,
Toward that end, perhaps it is fitting that the team will set about preparing for 2019 in much the same way it did 2018: starting out with warm-weather training in Florida, followed by a run in the Arizona sun.
RBNY has confirmed the outline of its preseason plans: trips to the IMG Academy in Bradenton and then on to Tucson ahead of the season-opening journey to Dominican Republic.
Once A Metro is advised to expect a formal preseason schedule announcement from RBNY sometime next week. It should perhaps be noted that the Red Bulls will be elbow-deep in MLS Combine and SuperDraft activities next week, and MLS is expected to drop 2019 schedule in the not-too-distant future: the club will announce its preseason schedule when it has a preseason schedule to announce.
At least half that schedule may well be announced before the Red Bulls issue any official statement: their participation in the Mobile Mini Sun Cup in Tucson has already been confirmed by the tournament’s organizers. Those same organizers have tickets to sell for the exhibition games they will be hosting, so they will presumably announce their schedule as best suits their own sales and marketing needs.
Which is to say we may well be able to piece together much of RBNY’s preseason schedule before the club has the details it requires to be able to share its complete preseason calendar with fans.
As has been the case for the last two years, expect a more or less full squad (national team duty is expected to preoccupy at least Aaron Long and Cristian Casseres for some portion of RBNY’s preseason) to gather for the trip to Florida; it is likely the CCL squad will only be in Arizona for about a week (Mobile Mini Sun Cup is slated to run from February 6 to February 23) before separating from the training camp to focus on preparations for Atletico Pantoja while reserves and trialists see out the remainder of the Red Bulls’ tournament in Tucson.