The Red Bulls face their last big test of the preseason on Tuesday night as they take on Mexican club Atlas—Rafa Márquez's former team—in a friendly.
New York will use this as a gauge ahead of their March 19 season opener against Seattle at Red Bull Arena. The last time the Red Bulls faced Mexican competition, they lost 3-2 to CD Guadalajara on Feb. 15 in the final match of their preseason lap around Mexico.
Four things to watch in tonight’s game:
The First Team
The team that takes the field against Atlas on Tuesday night will be the closest head coach Hans Backe has to a first-team selection. Backe told media on Monday that both Juan Agudelo and Jan Gunnar Solli have minor injuries, so don’t expect them to start. However, nearly everyone else who has played this preseason is available.
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Expect to see Teemu Tainio playing a central midfield role. The Finnish international was brought in originally as a right back but has impressed Backe with his versatility.
“He’s definitely a class player,” Backe said. “I knew he was good.”
With Agudelo sidelined by a groin injury and Luke Rodgers unavailable with injury concerns of his own, expect Dane Richards to play up top with the former French international. Salou Ibrahim appears out of favor and with Corey Herzog having played 65 minutes Monday night in a reserve lineup against FC Dallas, Richards will likely move up from the midfield.
Depending on Agudelo's health, it's possible Richards will play up top when the Red Bulls host the Sounders in the season opener.
Another Fitness Step
When he arrived in mid-January of last year, Backe lamented his team's fitness and set about turning the Red Bulls into one of the most in-shape teams in the league.
Just 11 days before the season’s start, the Red Bulls appear fit and ready following an offseason training regimen in which the player’s performance data was fully analyzed by the training staff.
“We started on a much higher level fitness wise,” Backe said. “Overall, I think the team and players are more aware of our foundation.”
Last year was arguably goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul's best in MLS as he finished in the top five in nearly every statistical category in MLS. But Coundoul went to Senegal in January to play in a friendly with the national team and, during that time, Greg Sutton shone.
Backe praised the steadiness of Sutton, who played all four US Open Cup matches last year for New York and was solid in spot duty for the Red Bulls. A good performance tonight by Sutton could mean the starting nod against Seattle, though nothing is set in stone.
“They are so even,” Backe said of the goalkeeper competition.