After counting down months to weeks and weeks to days, the Mar. 3 season opener in Portland is now closer than ever, as the Red Bulls look to start the new season off with a win over the Timbers Sunday night (7:30pm kickoff, ESPN2).
Throughout preseason trips in Bradenton, FL and Tucson, AZ, the team has worked on fitness and chemistry in anticipation of the season opener. Now, as the Red Bulls head to the west coast, they get their first test in front of the raucous Portland home crowd at JELD-WEN Field.
New faces found their way to the Red Bulls roster this offseason. Although Sunday’s Starting XI will have a few regulars in the mix, odds are fans may see a couple of fresh faces in the lineup as well.
New York beefed up the back line a bit with the addition of former Real Salt Lake defender Jamison Olave and Timbers defender Kosuke Kimura, while filling the midfield with the likes of Brazilian soccer legend Juninho Pernambucano, Eric Alexander, Jonny Steele, and MLS newcomers Ruben Bover, Michael Bustamante, and the club’s MLS SuperDraft pick, Ian Christianson. Former RSL striker Fabian Espindola will join Thierry Henry up top, and the duo will have some added depth from former Union forward Josue Martinez and Red Bull Academy product Amando Moreno. In goal, Luis Robles and Ryan Meara, who both debuted with the club last season, are joined by rookie Santiago Castano.
Watch: Portland Preview
Historically New York has fared well against the Timbers, posting a 2-0-1 all-time record against the Western Conference side. The single draw, a 3-3 finish, came in the first ever meeting between the two teams during a match at JELD-WEN Field on June 19, 2011. Since then the Red Bulls have been victorious in each of the last two, outscoring Portland 5-2.
Now, with a preseason under their belts, New York can head into the first game of the season with a growing sense of familiarity amongst themselves as the team chemistry continues to build. But for guys like Alexander and Kimura, a little inside knowledge could potentially go a long way.
“I obviously know what to expect as far as the stage and the fans and obviously the personnel they have,” Alexander said, referencing his time with Portland during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. “But you really can’t take it any differently than any other game because once emotion comes into it you start making some decisions that maybe you wouldn’t normally make. Sometimes that’s not a good thing. I’m just going to take it level-headed and go in there like I would any other game.”
There are a number of viewing parties going down in both New York and New Jersey. The full list of viewing parties is available here, but if you can’t make it out for the night, you can watch the live coverage on ESPN2.
Tickets to the Mar. 16 home opener at Red Bull Arena are on sale now. Get yours by visiting Red Bulls Ticket Central, or by calling 877.RB.SOCCER. Partial Plans and Friends and Family Four Packs are also available for select games throughout the season, including the home opener.