The New York Red Bulls are following in the footsteps of many other Tri State young adults and heading to SoCal for Coachella. Unfortunately for the five rostered players under the age of 20 (sorry Edelman) the winter excursion is a business trip. The team is scheduled to take part in the inaugural Coachella Valley Invitational, the new preseason exhibition tournament hosted by the LA Galaxy at the same site as the music festival. They will join four other Major League Soccer sides along with one USL Championship team to play at the Empire Polo Grounds between February 10 and 19, only one week ahead of the regular season kickoff.
This is the second leg of New York’s 2022 preseason outside of New Jersey and the first full public friendlies. The first kicked off in late January in the team’s typical stomping grounds of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. In the two scrimmages played the team fell in 3-1 loss to defending MLS Cup Champions New York City FC and played to a scoreless draw against the US Under-20 National Team.
The preseason is always a secret but here’s what is essentially known. Gerhard Struber is entering a second full season as a manager, the first time he’s ever done that in his career, with a lot of moving pieces. Caden Clark is now in place to return to the squad on loan from Germany, the backline is still a work in progress with Andres Reyes out with injury but Tom Edwards is reportedly close to returning from Stoke City, and the offseason additions are yet to be completed with Luquinhas reportedly close to signing.
The Invitational represents Struber’s last chance to see his boys play competitively before the season starts, a crucial luxury considering how far behind last year’s covid-cancelled scrimmages set the team back. Players who are already signed with the team will have their final chance to fine tune and demonstrate what works ahead of the season opener in San Jose.
While the games will not be broadcast, we’re desperate enough for games to start that we still broke down New York’s first fully-organized opponents of 2022 for you below…
February 10 vs DC United
New York will kick off against I-95 rival DC United in the main event of Day 1 (4 PM Pacific). The Bulls lost the Atlantic Cup outright in 2021, with the best result being a 1-1 draw at home on September 11. That result was flanked by two 1-0 losses at Audi Field in both July and October. However, RBNY did get the last laugh finishing one point above United for the final playoff spot.
The offseason has been busy for DC. After initially shopping offers from Mexican sides, United sent USMNT star Paul Arriola to FC Dallas for a cool two million in guaranteed allocation money. They also made a nice sum selling defender Kevin Paredes to Germany while allowing other aging contracts to run their course (Felipe, Yordy Reyna, etc.). However, the Eagles have been odd when it comes to replacing all of this talent.
United added USL Championship standout Hayden Sargis from Sacramento early on. The biggest splash was only made this week, officially inking forward Michael Estrada on loan from Liga MX side Deportivo Toluca through the season. But they haven’t really done anything to replace Arriola. In a midfield where the senior player is Russell Canouse with four goals, second year head coach Hernán Losada has his work cut out for him.
February 13 vs LA Galaxy
Greg Vanney and company were one disallowed Real Salt Lake goal away from making the playoffs last season. Coming into 2022, this team feels very similar to the one that beat RBNY 3-2 in last season’s second match. Except, like DCU, they are now without a major national team star.
When Mexican international Jonathan dos Santos left the club last November, it left a huge hole. Not only in the Galaxy’s midfield but also in the team’s Designated Player slots. However the Galaxy have still not not found a player to join Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Kevin Cabral as DPs. In fact, outside of dos Santos’ departure the Galaxy’s offseason has been quiet. Bringing in defensive midfielder Raheem Edwards from across town and right back Kelvin Leerdam were the only notable additions to a team that is still missing pieces.
That’s really the key. For a team that was just narrowly on the outside of the playoffs it hasn’t done anything to give confidence. Chicharito, who scored a hat-trick in that game last season against New York, will be looking to reclaim the momentum he lost following an injury last year. The Galaxy have opened the preseason hot by winning both of their matches at home against Toronto FC and the New England Revolution.
February 18 vs Los Angeles FC
Finally, the Red Bulls will close out the acid trip with the cooler, edgier Los Angeles team. This match is actually a rarity as these two teams haven’t played one-another since 2019. LA won that game, 4-2, while RBNY won the first-ever meeting between the two sides one year prior. Like their fellow Los Angelians the team was on the outside of the playoffs last season.
LA is probably the toughest (if you can quantify that for preseason) foe New York will face during the competition. First year head coach Steve Cherundolo has a tall order to fill, coming in off LA’s reserve team to replace the departing Bob Bradley. However his front office has provided him with an insane haul to tinker with.
The biggest toy RBNY will get to tinker with is the newly acquired Kellyn Acosta. Fresh off a controversial trade from Colorado, the USMNT midfielder will need to show he was worth his bill. Other pieces like attacking-mid Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, formerly of the blue NYC team, and Kansas City legend Ilie Sánchez are also joining a dangerous side. This also does not account for the team LA already has surrounding Carlos Vela.
So far in the preseason though LA hasn’t put up spectacular results. The other team that collects rent money from NYCFC tied it’s opener to defending Supporter’s Shield holders New England, 1-1, before falling to Toronto at the beginning of the month. Interestingly enough, the Bulls will also be LAFC’s second and final match of the Invitational as they play an abbreviated preseason of only four games total.
In a final note; Since 2012, RBNY have competed in some form of preseason competition in all but two years (2016 & 2021). In that span, the team has finished as high as second place in a competition (2015 IMG Suncoast Pro Classic) and only won one out of three (or more games) five times.
The last time the Bulls took home preseason honors was the 2010 Walt Disney World Pro Soccer Classic. The Coachella Invitational may not even have a trophy to come with, we aren’t sure. But the Bulls can take solace knowing they won’t be coming back to the East Coast with whatever god awful things those fairgrounds have seen in years past.