Preseason training began in earnest for the Red Bulls this week as the team headed down to Mexico for a series of friendly matches and some grueling double sessions under the equatorial sun.
MLSsoccer.com’s Kristian Dyer looks at four points to consider as the Red Bulls get their preseason into full gear this week.
The Rafa Factor – Since last spring, head coach Hans Backe has been talking about bringing in a center back to slot alongside Tim Ream in the back four. Mike Petke and Andrew Boyens are done, leaving Carlos Mendes as the only true central defender on the roster with any league experience.
But in recent comments, Backe has been hinting that designated player Rafa Márquez could make a move to the back line from his central midfield position. Márquez has played there for club and country, and his ability to possess the ball and spring forward in the counter attack would be an asset for the team.
If New York bring in another central midfielder, it would mean they see Márquez partnering with Ream defensively. It is an interesting idea and would free up minutes for Tony Tchani in the midfield.
What To Do About Dane? – Last August and September, midfielder Dane Richards was the hottest player in MLS. Then the winger went cold at the tail end of the season and through the playoffs. But what to do about Richards now? His pace and speed are valued on this team and he was as dangerous as they come during that scoring stretch last year – but with the arrival of Jan Gunnar Solli, is Richards' time in the starting XI up?
Plenty depends on the lineup Backe employs, and the Red Bulls coach has talked about playing Richards up top as a forward. But will any option help Richards rediscover that deadly scoring touch?
[inline_node:303215]Is Rodgers Legit? – After nearly a year of pursuit, the Red Bulls finally welcomed English forward Luke Rodgers to the team last month and Backe told MLSsoccer.com that he sees Rodgers as a starting XI quality player.
This preseason will give Backe a chance to see if Rodgers, who comes from the English third division, is up to MLS’ snuff, and some goals in February and March would be promising.
The Left Back Battle – It will be interesting to see what happens at left back this year, as incumbent Roy Miller could well be pushed hard by rookie Tyler Lassiter. A Costa Rican international, Miller had a great start to the season last year in his entry into the league, but his form dipped significantly as the season wore on. He’s great at pushing forward and reading the game but easily gets beaten on the dribble and is suspect with his positioning.
Backe has been raving about Lassiter, meanwhile, saying that he is further along than Ream was at this point of his career. If Lassiter steps up, it could give New York another option on defense and perhaps make Miller expendable.
Kristian Dyer covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him at twitter.com/KristianRDyer.