Red Bulls Weekly Update: March 14

Red Bulls gear up for Opening Day after closing out preseason last week

RED BULLS KICK OFF 2011 SEASON SATURDAY VS SOUNDERS: The Red Bulls begin the defense of their Eastern Conference regular season crown Saturday when they host Seattle Sounders FC at 7:30 PM ET at Red Bull Arena.

Last season, the Red Bulls completed the best single season turnaround in Major League Soccer history. In his first year with the club, Head Coach Hans Backe guided New York to a 10-win and 30-point increase from the previous season, as the team went from bottom of the table in 2009 to top of the East in 2010. The stretch run to solidify New York’s position in the standings was spurred on by the arrival of Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez, who now begin their first full seasons with the club. Returning are Rookie of the Year finalist Tim Ream and 2010 Team Most Valuable Player Joel Lindpere, as well as potential packed striker Juan Agudelo.

The Red Bulls welcome many new faces to the club for 2011, including Norwegian International Jan Gunnar Solli. The versatile midfielder brings a winning pedigree to New York, having won four league championships during his career in Norway’s first division. Also on board this season is Finnish midfielder/defender Teemu Tainio and English forward Luke Rodgers. Additionally, the Red Bulls added some exciting prospects as well, drafting forward Corey Hertzog and midfielder John Rooney. The Red Bulls also continued to utilize the pipeline from their Academy to the first team, inking midfielder Matt Kassel and defender Sacir Hot as homegrown players.

Seattle Sounders FC finished last season in fourth place in the Western Conference with a record of 14-10-6, and were ousted 3-1 on aggregate in the Western Conference Semifinals by the Los Angeles Galaxy. They return their two leading scorers, Fredy Montero and Steve Zakuani, who both found the back of the net 10 times last season. In 2010, Sounders FC successfully defended its U.S. Open Cup crown, defeating the Columbus Crew 2-1 in the final. All-time, the Red Bulls are 1-2-1 against Seattle. Last season, New York defeated Sounders FC at Qwest Field on April 3, 2010 by a 1-0 score on a goal by Macoumba Kandji. The win snapped a 26-game road winless streak for the club. In the return match on May 15 at Red Bull Arena, Seattle upended the Red Bulls, 1-0, on a late strike by substitute Montero. Seattle opens its season Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Galaxy at Qwest Field.

LAST WEEK: Red Bulls 1, Club Atlas de Guadalajara 1 (Exhibition match on March 8 at University of Phoenix Stadium)

THIS WEEK: Red Bulls vs. Seattle Sounders FC at Red Bull Arena on March 19 at 7:30 PM

NEXT WEEK: Red Bulls at Columbus Crew at Crew Stadium on March 26 at 4:00PM

RED BULLS TIE ATLAS 1-1: In “Red Bull Reto del Sol”, the New York Red Bulls played to a 1-1 tie against Mexican powerhouse, Club Atlas de Guadalajara, Tuesday, March 8 at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ. The match was New York’s last in the preseason.

After a scoreless first half, the Red Bulls conceded an own goal with 12 minutes to play. However, former Atlas star and Red Bulls Designated Player Rafa Marquez converted a penalty kick in the 90th minute, as New York earned the draw.

With both teams feeling each other out for much of the first interval, the Red Bulls had the best clear-cut scoring chance in the 11th minute. A long ball played out of the New York defense bounced fortuitously in the path of forward Salou Ibrahim, who tried to lob it over the on-rushing Jose Canales. But Ibrahim put too much power on it and knocked his shot over the crossbar. With a minute left until the intermission, Canales dove bravely to prevent Ibrahim from getting on the end of a well-placed Thierry Henry cross.

The Red Bulls continued their push to draw first blood in the second half. In the 53rd minute, Dane Richards got free from 14 yards out and had has shot on goal deflected away by midfielder Luis Enrique Robles. Soon after, Atlas, which did not have many scoring chances in the match, tested Red Bull Bouna Coundoul when the Senegalese goalkeeper pushed aside a Carlo Costly blast.

Ibrahim again had an opportunity to give New York the lead in the 61st minute. Henry threaded a through ball into the penalty box to the Ghanaian forward. Ibrahim’s toe poke, however, was stopped by a sprawling Canales. Twelve minutes later, Red Bulls substitute Tony Tchani got past an Atlas defender and fired an acute angle shot that was just past the left post.

Atlas was able to get on the scoreboard in the 78th minute. Atlas substitute Edgar Pacheco had space on the right side of the penalty box and put in a ball that was inadvertently deflected into the net by New York defender Tim Ream.

The Red Bulls looked like they were going to come away with a loss but with minutes left in the match, Joel Lindpere earned a penalty kick after being tackled at the edge of the penalty box. Marquez stepped up and put it in, sending Canales the wrong way.

RED BULLS SIGN TEEMU TAINIO AND STEPHEN KEEL: Red Bull New York announced the signings of Finnish international midfielder/defender Teemu Tainio and defender Stephen Keel. Tainio will be added to the team’s roster pending receipt of his International Transfer Certificate (ITC). Keel spent significant time in the USL First Division and had a short stint in MLS since beginning his professional career in 2005.

"The club is thrilled about adding a player of Teemu's class," said Red Bull New York Sporting Director Erik Soler. "He is a versatile player with a vast amount of experience and we are confident that he will fit right in with the team and become a valuable contributor immediately."

In regards to Keel, Soler said, “We are excited to sign Stephen and have him officially join our club. He has impressed us in training and in our preseason matches and will provide depth to our back line.”

Tainio, 31, joins the Red Bulls from Dutch powerhouse Ajax Amsterdam, which he joined at the beginning of the 2010 season, appearing in two matches. Prior to signing with Ajax, Tainio, who has played in most midfield positions and in defense, spent five years playing in the English Premier League, splitting his time between three teams – Birmingham City, Sunderland and Tottenham Hotspur. Tainio spent two years at Sunderland, which included 21 appearances in the 2008-09 season and six appearances while on loan with Birmingham from 2009-10. Playing at Tottenham from 2005-08, Tainio featured in 61 matches, scoring three goals and winning the Football League Cup in his final year at White Hart Lane.

Tainio began his professional career at the age of 14, when he was promoted to the senior team of TP-47 in Finland’s third division, after which he quickly moved to FC Haka in the Veikkausliiga, Finland’s premier division. Scoring four goals in 20 appearances and winning the Finnish Cup in 1997, he then moved to Ligue 1 club AJ Auxerre, where he spent eight years and won the Coupe de France twice, playing in 150 matches and scoring 14 goals.

Making his international debut at just 18 years old on Feb. 5, 1998, Tainio has gone on to earn 51 caps for his country and tallied six goals.

Keel, 27, joins the Red Bulls after a month-long trial this preseason. He last played in the USL First Division for the Portland Timbers, which were replaced this year by the expansion MLS franchise of the same name, where he won the USL First Division Commissioner’s Cup in 2009.

Keel spent five years in the Colorado Rapids’ system, playing with the Seattle Sounders in the USL First Division on loan in 2006 and appearing in 36 matches with Colorado’s back-to-back MLS Reserve Division champion reserve team from 2007-09. He made six appearances with the Rapids’ first team while with the club before being waived in March 2009, when he signed with Portland.

Prior to his professional career, Keel played with the Bradenton Academics of the USL Premier Development League. During a four-year collegiate career at Wake Forest, Keel was a forward and posted career totals of 13 goals and nine assists.

RED BULL ARENA TO HOST CONCACAF GOLD CUP DOUBLEHEADER JUNE 13: The 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup groups and schedule were announced March 8 by CONCACAF. Red Bull Arena, the home of the New York Red Bulls, will host a first round Group B doubleheader on June 13 with Guatemala and Grenada kicking off at 7:00 PM ET before Honduras battles Jamaica at 9:00 PM ET.

"We are thrilled to host the four Group B teams at Red Bull Arena on June 13," said Red Bull New York Managing Director Erik Stover. "Our goal is to make Red Bull Arena a destination for soccer in North America and hosting this year's Gold Cup is a major step in reaching that aim."

The 2011 Gold Cup champion and CONCACAF representative to the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil will be crowned on Saturday, June 25 at the historic Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

A one-week pre-sale for Red Bulls Full Season Members began Wednesday, March 9. This access to discounted tickets for the Gold Cup will be available online only, with ordering details having been sent by email to those with access. Tickets will go on sale to the general public on Wednesday, March 16 at 10:00 AM.

“We are extremely excited for this year's Gold Cup and are completely confident that it will be the best ever”, CONCACAF General Secretary Chuck Blazer said. "We are bringing our fans the region’s best football in fantastic venues - with a lot on the line. It is truly a can't-miss event."

The Gold Cup, which has generated record attendances and television ratings in each of the past three competitions, will be played coast-to-coast at 13 venues again this year, including five new stadia. New Meadowlands Stadium, RFK Stadium and Reliant Stadium will serve as quarterfinal and semifinal venues, respectively, leading up to the grand finale at the Rose Bowl on June 25.

ALBRIGHT UNDERGOES SUCCESSFUL SURGERY, TO MISS 4-6 WEEKS: Red Bull New York announced that defender Chris Albright underwent surgery Tuesday, March 8 to repair a small tear in his lateral meniscus in his left knee. Albright is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. The surgical procedure was performed by Dr. Bert Mandelbaum.

The defender will begin rehabilitation in Los Angeles before returning to New York to complete the process. Albright, a 12 year veteran of Major League Soccer, joined the Red Bulls last season and was a finalist for the league’s Comeback Player of the Year Award. In 2010, he started and appeared in 18 matches, and registered two assists.

RED BULLS LAUNCH RBNY MEMBERSHIP: Red Bull New York announced the launch of the RBNY Membership. The RBNY Membership is a first-of-its-kind membership program designed to give passionate fans of the Red Bulls a direct connection to the club. The RBNY Membership is an extension of a season ticket holder program that debuted during the inaugural season of Red Bull Arena in 2010 and is now open to non-season ticket holders.

There are two types of Memberships: the Full Season Membership, which includes Full Season Tickets for the 2011 MLS season at Red Bull Arena, and the Basic Membership, designed for fans that do not own Full Season Tickets. Both Memberships provide fans with the chance to earn loyalty points that can be redeemed for free tickets to Red Bulls matches throughout the season. Additional loyalty rewards will be unveiled as the 2011 season progresses. All Full Season Ticket holders are automatically enrolled in the Full Season Membership at no additional cost.

The key component of the Membership is the Members Card - an RFID card that allows the club to track and reward fan behavior inside Red Bull Arena. Season tickets for Full Season Members are automatically loaded to the Members Card, which is used for entry to each match at Red Bull Arena. In addition, both Full Season Members and Basic Members can load cash to their Members Card for purchases at Red Bull Arena concession and merchandise stands on match day. Fans earn loyalty points with each entry into Red Bull Arena or purchase in the stadium when using their Members Card.

"The Basic Membership is the next step in the long term goal to make Red Bull Arena a paperless and cashless stadium," Red Bull New York Vice President of Marketing Andrew Lafiosca said. "We have made improvements based on feedback from our season ticket holders and believe that we have improved the program so that fans will be eager to participate."

New for the 2011 season at Red Bull Arena are "Members Only" concession lines, designed to provide Members with shorter concession lines and faster service. Members Only concession lines will be located behind sections 123, 127, 132 and 226 and will only accept purchases made with the Members Card - no cash or credit cards will be accepted. In addition, all Members will have access to priority purchase windows for all events at Red Bull Arena, such as the 2011 AT&T MLS All-Star Match, before general public sales.

"As we develop the fan base and increase the number of sold out matches, the Membership will be key to gaining access to tickets at Red Bull Arena,” Lafiosca said.

RED BULL ARENA PARTNERS WITH EL ZARCO TEQUILA: El Zarco Tequila announced a marketing sponsorship alliance with Red Bull Arena on March 10. The tequila's sponsorship of the popular MLS Stadium will include in-arena brand exposure for the duration of the 2011 regular season, and will coincide with El Zarco’s launch in New York and New Jersey markets this month.

Introduced nationally in 2011, El Zarco Tequila is part of the family-owned portfolio of Jersey City based Proximo, a supplier of many premium Tequilas in the United States. “El Zarco is recognizable for its clean, modern taste and striking bottle design,” said Elwyn Gladstone, SVP Marketing at Proximo Spirits. “It is a fresh entry into the fast growing but creatively uniform US tequila market.”