UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – The battle for the starting lineup appears set for the Red Bulls with one noticeable exception, as goalkeepers Bouna Coundoul and Greg Sutton continue to jockey for the No. 1 spot.
Coundoul was among the top five goalkeepers in the league last season statistically, making 27 starts and enjoying perhaps his finest of his five years in the league. But it was a push by Sutton this preseason that has made this an intriguing positional battle in New York camp, and perhaps the only battle heading into Saturday’s opener.
Head coach Hans Backe said that he doesn’t anticipate making a decision on the keepers until Friday, but Coundoul had extensive work on Thursday with the first team during training at Montclair State University.
Part of the reason for the struggle is that Coundoul missed the first chunk of preseason while away for an international friendly with the Senegalese national team. He played 70 minutes in the February match against Guinea, and Backe apparently disapproved of the keeper playing for his national team and missing the start of camp.
Coundoul, however, said it comes with the territory when you are an international.
“When the national team calls, especially on a FIFA date, I’m going,” Coundoul told MLSSoccer.com. “He was aware that I was going.”
[inline_node:324908]Coundoul came into camp sharp, having played in the friendly and training with several top flight European players while with Senegal. While Sutton appeared just five times for the Red Bulls last year in league play and had another four strong matches in the US Open Cup, Backe thought that there was even a legitimate goalkeeper battle last year.
“I think it was even last year,” Backe said. “But Bouna got the place because he was so consistent.”
It may be more difficult for Coundoul to carry that form this year, as the Red Bulls recently parted ways with goalkeeper coach Des McAleenan, considered in many circles too be the top goalkeeper coach in the league. Backe said that the club anticipates bringing in a new goalkeeper coach by next week.
“It’s always good to have a goalkeeper coach. You want one because it helps you with the training and the drills,” Coundoul said. “But we’ve gotten along fine as a group and we know what to do and how to train. It’s not a problem.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer