HARRISON, N.J. – Take a look at the New York Red Bulls’ recent run of good form and you’ll notice that head coach Mike Petke has not deviated much in terms of who his starters have been, but that does not mean all positions have been locked up. In fact, there is at least one position still up for grabs.
That position is right back.
Brandon Barklage and Kosuke Kimura have been interchangeable on the right side of defense thus far this season with no one really putting a stranglehold on the starting spot. Barklage seemed to have done so in recent weeks, but Petke sat him for the Red Bulls’ last two games so as to give him a rest after a long stretch of games that have marked Barklage’s busiest start to a campaign in his career.
In Barklage’s absence, Kimura has fared well and the New York’s defense has not missed a beat. Kimura helped the Red Bulls blank the Montreal Impact for much of a 2-1 victory last Wednesday before going the distance again in a 1-1 draw with the New England Revolution this past weekend, a pair of performances that were a fresh of breath air for the veteran Japanese defender.
“It’s a new thing for me,” Kimura told MLSsoccer.com of his recent spell on the sidelines. “But [Petke] also said ‘Kosuke, just be ready. We’re going to be rotating everybody in and out.’ As long as he does that, I’m happy with it and everybody keep smiling and happy and if we keep winning like this, there’s nothing better. You can keep your legs fresh all the time and keep going throughout the season.”
Having that type of depth may push the two fullbacks to give their utmost in training on a day-to-day basis and may be a luxury for Petke, but the head coach readily admits that neither Barklage or Kimura have shown the type of separation that would permanently make right back their own.
The numbers seem to agree with that as well, as Barklage has started nine times (with three assists) while Kimura has gotten the nod in five games (two assists).
“There’s certain moments that they are spot on with their passing and their decision-making and certain moments that they’re not,” Petke told reporters Wednesday. “That’s why it’s always week-in and week-out [competition] of who I feel is going to help us in that situation. The one thing I never have to worry about with them is their effort and their loyalty and where their mind is at.”
Regardless of who starts, the responsibilities at the position remain the same. Petke asks both Barklage and Kimura to defend first and then pick and choose their spots to join the attack, a tactic that has seemingly worked during New York’s recent five-game unbeaten run.
“Right now, it’s just all about staying compact,” Barklage told MLSsoccer.com, “and keeping our block and making the other team break us down.”
For now, the two right backs are simply focusing on helping the team win whenever their respective numbers are called.
“We just keep rotating but come the end of the season and playoff time comes, you never know,” said Kimura. “If we’re playing well, whoever Mike thinks is comfortable, he’s just going to go with it. It’s going to be tough but only thing we can do is keep working hard every day in training and in the games when you get in. That’s the only thing you can do.”
The Red Bulls return to action Sunday when they host the LA Galaxy for a 1:00 PM kick off at Red Bull Arena. Get your tickets now by logging on to Red Bulls Ticket Central, or call 877.RB.SOCCER.