The game wasn’t pretty and the score line won’t bring any smiles to the Red Bulls, but Wednesday’s 1-0 friendly loss at Montreal was still a success. Mission definitely accomplished for New York.
The goals were sharpness, training and evaluation for head coach Hans Backe and staff. The trip to Quebec, sandwiched between flying to Los Angeles last weekend for a match against the Galaxy and this Sunday’s fixture against Chivas USA, gave the New York coaches a chance to get more match fitness for the starting XI and some game action for the reserves.
Backe, for his part, wasn’t shocked by the intensity of the home side to get the win against their guests from MLS. Fromer Toronto FC man Ali Gerba proved the difference with the game’s lone goal.
“I’m not surprised the way the game looked,” Backe said. “I think nine out of 10 times, when you play friendlies, it is very, very even. You have one team more hungry. Typically, friendly games look like this.”
The challenge for New York this week was logistical. With a cross-country match last weekend, the Red Bulls will have two days of regeneration and two days off this week due to the crowded schedule.
All the starters on Wednesday night, with the exception of Carl Robinson — who was hurt in the 41st minute — went to halftime. Backe made wholesale changes at the break, with only forward Juan Agudelo and goalkeeper Greg Sutton playing into the second half and, in fact, going the full 90 minutes.
The match was an opportunity for the Red Bulls higher-ups to get the reserves and three of Academy players fully integrated into the squad, which included Thierry Henry and Rafa Márquez for the first 45.
“This game was more of a game for us to get some guys who haven’t played some minutes in and try to get some fitness in, really,” Sutton said.
New York utilized a similar strategy last year to build depth. Through friendly matches against Brazilian club Santos and Italy’s Juventus, plus three matches against college teams, the Red Bulls reserves gained match sharpness that helped carry them through three wins in the US Open Cup and helped the squad capture the regular-season Eastern Conference title.
Defender Chris Albright, coming off a knee injury in 2008 that shelved him for nearly the entire season, used the Red Bulls friendly matches last year to help claim a starting spot. He’s hoping for the same thing this year as he works on recovering from preseason knee surgery.
“It was a good run, just sort of wanted to get my feet together, get a little bit game fitness back," Albright said. “And sort of ease into the game and make it like a sharp training session, which Hans alluded to for everybody.”