Earlier this month, the New York Red Bulls announced preseason plans which included a scheduled game against a then-unnamed opponent on this past Friday March 19, the day before the team left for Florida to continue season prep. While New York never publicly disclosed the details of the closed-door friendly, the opponent was revealed to be National Independent Soccer Association side New Amsterdam FC. The professional third-division team made the announcement last Thursday in a now deleted Instagram post.
However between Thursday night and Friday morning, New Amsterdam revealed via Instagram story that the game was cancelled due to at least one positive COVID-19 test. It was not specified which team was impacted by the test results. This comes one week after the Red Bulls ended up not holding an expected friendly game with Pennsylvania amateur side West Chester United SC. The Red Bulls stated to OaM that both matches were cancelled out of an abundance of caution and that intra-squad scrimmages without an outside group were instead held those days to ensure that a somewhat similar fitness effect was still met.
Prior to the cancelation being official, NAFC sporting director and head coach Maximilian Mansfield knew it was a real possibility.
“We’re still kind of waiting on some test results on both ends,” Mansfield said in a phone interview last week. “Bio-Tech, the company that does (the testing), will test us all in one pool, so like 18 Red Bull players and 18 NAFC players, and then if anyone contracts it then the game is cancelled.
“But they don’t say who it is. They don’t tell us, it’s not made public, they just tell the person (who tested positive).”
Mansfield, a native of Germany who grew up in Lower Manhattan, was probably more excited for his younger players getting this chance than anything else. The reason he and team owner Laurence Girard started New Amsterdam was to give New York City area locals a chance to play professionally. It’s something Mansfield has a deep passion for after he previously founded “The Fussball Project” (German for “The Soccer Project”), a development group that helps teenage and college talent get professional opportunities in Europe.
“Part of it is rewarding guys that have been loyal to the project from day one,” Mansfield said. “I feel like they deserve the chance more than, say, someone who signed on the Monday of this week. Who down the line may be more vital to us than one of the kids. But I just feel like the kids stuck it out when it wasn’t so pretty, so they should see some light at the end of the tunnel.”
The fall, to put it mildly, could have gone better for NAFC. Losing all four regular season games and finishing the postseason group stage winless left the team rethinking it’s motives and plans heading into the second half of the NISA season, which is split into a fall/spring format. Mansfield isn’t shy to admit 2020 was tough, both on and off the field especially with his team having to play games hours outside of the city in Warwick, New York due to COVID. However, his group has been developing during the spring and the culture shift has been noticeable.
“It’s coming together. There’s a new look to our team, there’s a new feeling,” he said. “In our training camp a couple of the pieces of the puzzle came together in terms of signing guys. I think we’re going to be a surprise team in NISA.”
Those surprises might include the caliber of signings New Amsterdam has made during the offseason between fall and spring. Both Bljedi Bardic, formerly of the New York Cosmos, and José Angulo, former Red Bull and holder of USL’s single season goal scoring record, have signed with the club and bring a new veteran presence to a side that had the youngest roster in NISA last fall.
Despite the setbacks, including the cancelled friendly, New Amsterdam will continue training for the upcoming NISA Spring season which will kickoff with a tournament in Chattanooga, Tennessee next month. As he said in a previous interview with me, Mansfield still believes his side can be nearly entirely composed of local talent and compete at a high level and he thinks the Spring will be a prime time to do that.
“As long as I can find a way or hopefully produce results I’ll stick to that ethos because that’s what the club is built on,” he explained. “I do believe there is enough talent here, it’s just in the fall I think we were (unable) to capitalize on enough of that talent. But I think this year we have the depth to be able to make an impact.”
Now settled in Florida, the Red Bulls’ next preseason match is scheduled to take place at IMG Academy in Bradenton where they’ll host Nashville SC on March 24. After that, the team will play The Miami FC and Inter Miami CF on March 27 and April 3, respectively. The two Miami sides were supposed to play each other on March 20, but had to postpone out of caution due to their own COVID-19 cases. While the 2021 Major League Soccer is season is expected to have much less disruption from the events of the global pandemic, clubs across North America are still playing it safe as possible during this year’s preseason.