Red Bulls ready for Cruzeiro challenge

New York eager to defend Red Bull Arena Friday night in international friendly

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The New York Red Bulls may have enjoyed some time off during their recent recess for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but they are ready to step back on the field and defend their home turf this Friday night; although this time, they’ll be defending it against an international foe. For the second time this season, the Red Bulls will host a club from Brazil, as famed club Cruzeiro visits Harrison for a friendly that is sure to be an exciting and close encounter (8:00 PM ET).

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Cruzeiro is the third international club the Red Bulls will play at Red Bull Arena in 2010, and if the first couple results are any indication, the Red Bulls are ready to continue proving their worth on the international stage. In Red Bull Arena’s inaugural match back on March 20, the Red Bulls defeated Cruzeiro country-mate Santos FC, a resounding 3-1 victory for the Bulls. Just last month, Red Bull Arena added some European flavor, with the Red Bulls defeating Italy’s Juventus by an identical 3-1 scoreline. Despite the previous successes against Santos and Juventus, the Red Bulls aren’t quite expecting Cruzeiro to follow suit so easily.

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“From what I hear, they are bringing their first team,” Red Bulls defender Jeremy Hall said. “It’s going to be a great match. There’s a lot of excitement. We know there are a lot of Brazilians in the area, so there will be a good atmosphere.”

The storied club from the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais is certainly a force to be reckoned with, and will present a great challenge for the Red Bulls. They hold the distinction of being the only Brazilian club to ever complete what is known as the “Brazilian Triple Crown”. In their memorable season of 2003, Cruzeiro won all three major domestic tournaments it competed in: the Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A, the Campeonato Mineiro, and the Copa do Brasil.

Cruzeiro recently took on Major League Soccer’s New England Revolution, and with many of their prominent star players in the starting lineup, controlled most of the play in a dominant 3-0 victory. Cruzeiro forward Wellington Paulista scored all three for the Brazilians, and the starting lineup for the match featured many of Cruzeiro’s first choice players.

Young forward Thiago Ribeiro, who scored eight goals in Cruzeiro’s 2009 Brazilian Serie A campaign, started and played 86 minutes against the Revolution, and is sure to flash his skill on Friday night. Also in the starting lineup for Cruzeiro in their match against New England was defender Cláudio Caçapa, a veteran with experience at Brazil’s Atletico Mineiro, France’s Lyon and England’s Newcastle United. Caçapa is the rock in central defense for Cruzeiro, and will surely provide a challenge for New York’s attack. Red Bulls defender Danleigh Borman expects a Cruzeiro side that is ready to compete.

“They came all the way from Brazil, they don’t want to lose,” Borman said of the Red Bulls’ counterparts. “Cruzeiro is a very good team, and they’ve beaten an MLS team (New England Revolution) already.”

The Red Bulls are hoping that their record against international opposition at Red Bull Arena stays perfect. While a result won’t help the Red Bulls pad their Eastern Conference leading record, the game provides a way for the Red Bulls to once again measure themselves against world-class opposition.

“It’s a good opportunity for us to play another friendly against one of the top teams from Brazil,” Hall said. “We want to play against the best teams in the world, and we’re definitely looking forward to it.

Hall, like Borman, expects the best out of the Red Bulls’ Brazilian counterparts on Friday night.

“We expect a great game,” Hall said. “Cruzeiro came a long way from Brazil to get a good friendly in. They’re going to play to win.”

The Red Bulls have enjoyed lots of success in Red Bull Arena since defeating Santos FC back in March. Including their victories in international friendlies this season, the Red Bulls have won 10 of the 12 matches that they have played in their new home. Borman expects the Red Bulls to attack and go hard for the win.

“I think we stand a very good chance to win the game,” Borman said. “We’re not going to sit back. We’re going to come out and give our very best, and I expect it’s going to be a very good game.”

Borman hopes the success the team has found at home this season continues on Friday night, a home-field advantage that Borman and his teammates want to defend.

“It’s our hometown, and we don’t like to lose at home,” Borman said. “We are going to come out and work, and do what we normally do. It’s our hometown.”

Christopher Celletti is a reporter for NewYorkRedBulls.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.