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Mixed results but little data from Red Bulls run in Coachella

Team closes with 6-1 drubbing by LAFC, but informal nature of tournament difficult to read too much into

New York Red Bulls v Los Angeles Galaxy
Gerhard Struber’s teams saw mixed preseason fortunes in Coachella, but it’s difficult to judge how much concern is necessary.
Photo by Michael Janosz/ISI Photos/Getty Images

In an ignominious close to their participation in the inaugural Coachella Valley Invitational on Saturday, the New York Red Bulls dropped a 6-1 result to Los Angeles FC. A Patryk Klimala penalty put the Red Bulls ahead early before a Brian Rodriguez brace opened the floodgates for LAFC for the remainder of the match.

Such a result makes for a disappointing end to an otherwise boisterous week that saw the team finalize multiple incoming transfers while earning a 1-1 draw against DC United and a more respectable 2-1 defeat to the hometown LA Galaxy. The Red Bulls have been on the end of embarrassing preseason results before, including prior to the Supporters Shield-winning 2018 campaign. But while those games four years ago featured mostly reserves as the first team participated in the CONCACAF Champions League, this loss was suffered by something resembling what should be the New York first team this season.

While recent Homegrown signing Daniel Edelman is still establishing himself in the first team rotation, the remainder of the squad were experienced pros at least by the standards of this youth-tilted club. With manager Gerhard Struber still waiting on the physical return of Tom Edwards after his contractual return was finalized this week, fellow new signing Lewis Morgan lined up as a right back alongside defensive veterans Aaron Long, Sean Nealis, and John Tolkin...or so we suspect.

Maybe the goals LAFC scored were each more spectacular than the last, six different Maxi Rodriguez-against-Mexicos in one afternoon. Maybe they were all tap-ins following set piece pinball in a game the Red Bulls otherwise controlled. We don’t know, and (unless one of you hacks into a club data analyst’s iCloud) probably never will.

At the end of the day, nobody except those with the fortune of being at the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio, California this month saw any of New York’s preseason play outside of short social media clips. The gathering of the Red Bulls and four other MLS sides in Coachella Valley was ultimately a test run for a tournament that could become a fixture of MLS spring training in the years to come, but for now was a hastily-arranged contingency for a league still emerging from pandemic logistical setbacks. The tournament was only scheduled in late January after teams had already assembled for training in their home cities, and no broadcast equipment was set up by MLS at the Empire ground, a specialized polo facility more notable for hosting the annual celebrity-laden Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

Preseason friendlies — or, more uncharitably, scrimmages — are always faulty measurements of a team’s level even when held in a stadium with a smattering of fans. Though Gerhard Struber and his staff will certainly not be happy with such a scoreline, it’s hard to blame a team for an isolated unraveling in a game played in training tops on a palm tree-lined concert lawn. It should be an easy decision to weigh the team’s league-leading 2021 defensive form with more relevance than such an low-stakes warm-up game.

But Saturday’s run-out was the final session of game action for Struber’s team heading into next weekend’s season opener against the Earthquakes in San Jose. We don’t know how Brian Rodriguez and Carlos Vela cut up the New York backline in Coachella, but if such goals were the product of miscommunication and positional lapses rather than a gap in motivation and hustle, the Red Bulls will need a serious final week of training as they remain in California before facing Matias Almeyda’s side. While the team will surely be boosted when Edwards and new designated player Luquinhas are on the ground and ready for action, Struber and his boys must set a high standard in the season’s opening weeks and avoid having to dig out of a hole a second year in a row.