While the New York Red Bulls and the rest of Major League Soccer were excited to finally gather to begin preseason training last week, they did so despite the season technically not being scheduled yet. With a labor agreement dispute carrying into early February, league officials were forced to move back and condense the already-complex process of actually putting games on the calendar. On Wednesday afternoon, the first details of that calendar were revealed as MLS announced the dates of its home openers to be held in the opening two weeks of the season next month.
The Red Bulls will open their campaign at home on April 17 against longtime Western Conference power Sporting Kansas City. In the second week of the season, the team will travel out west to meet LA Galaxy in a game nationally-televised on FS1 on April 25.
Still under the watch of longtime patriarch Peter Vermes, Kansas City last visited Harrison in August 2018. That afternoon, during the season in which New York most recently captured the regular season Supporters Shield title, a pair of Marc Rzatkowski strikes sparked a Red Bulls comeback for a 3-2 win. Vermes and Sporting are hoping to build on a 3rd-place league finish in 2020 in which they were the Western Conference’s top team.
The Red Bulls will be making a trip out to Southern California for the first time since April of that same season. New York earned a similar 3-2 comeback win that night in Carson over a Galaxy team that had just acquired global superstar Zlatan Ibrahimović. This year’s Galaxy will be hoping to rebound from a woeful 10th-place conference finish last season, having signed a new manager in longtime Toronto boss Greg Vanney along with former England youth national team goalkeeper Jonathan Bond from West Bromwich Albion and American-Irish defender Derrick Williams from Blackburn Rovers.
While the Red Bulls confirmed in their announcement on Wednesday afternoon that they plan on hosting fans in Red Bull Arena for the Kansas City match and the remainder of the season, they did not commit to a specific capacity percentage. Late last month New Jersey governor Phil Murphy began a phaseout of various public gathering restrictions including ones related to stadium events, and the room the Red Bulls have to make logistical decisions will almost certainly shift over the next five weeks as the COVID-19 pandemic dissipates.
The squad has been training under new manager Gerhard Struber in East Hanover since last week and are scheduled to travel to Florida on the 20th to engage in a series of intra-league friendlies in a preseason shorter than usual due to the aforementioned labor dispute. Having made ten first team signings this offseason, most recently Celtic FC left back Andrew Gutman via a loan from Atlanta United, Struber and Red Bulls fans alike will be excited to finally have the 2021 season move out of the realm of the abstract with real opponents and dates. While New York fans are perhaps fatigued by bold regime changes, in just over a month the newest and perhaps most intriguing one yet will finally unfold.