If a New York Red Bulls vs. Real Salt Lake match came up on the schedule during the 2012 season, then Fabian Espindola, Jamison Olave and Jonny Steele would be preparing for a west-to-east flight across the country for the one and only regular season match between the two clubs.
But this is 2013, and if the saying “a lot can change in a year” didn’t ring true before, then it certainly does now. The Red Bulls trio, which combines for 12 seasons at RSL, will face their former club for the first time as New York prepares for Saturday’s 7PM match.
“It’s going to be special,” Espindola said. “I know that they’re a great team. They’re going to play and be a tough team to beat.”
Up until this season, the Argentinean forward spent his entire MLS career with RSL, collecting 35 goals and adding 17 assists over a 125-match, six-year career in Utah that included an MLS Cup Championship win in 2009.
“Everything about Real Salt Lake was good for me,” said Espindola. “I have a lot of good things from my time there and I’m grateful for that team.”
That team - first overall in the Western Conference thanks to a 37-point total off an 11-6-4 record - is bringing stiff competition to Red Bull Arena. For a club that was considered to be in a rebuilding phase, Real Salt Lake leads the league in Goals For with 33 (tied with Vancouver Whitecaps FC), and just suffered its first loss since May 11. We touched upon that and more in this week’s What to Watch For.
“Salt Lake is a small franchise but they do things right and things are professional,” Steele said, who made his MLS debut as a member of Real Salt Lake against the Red Bulls on Mar. 17, 2012. “All around they’ve got great coaches and they have been successful. Then you come here, I guess it is one of the biggest franchises in the league, but at the end of the day we are here to win a championship and do things right. And we are working hard to achieve it.”
Olave, who scored the first-ever goal at Rio Tinto Stadium on Oct. 9, 2008 – ironically a tally he registered against the Red Bulls – will now look to defend against the same team that once helped him gain MLS Defender of the Year honors, a spot on the MLS Best XI, and a place in the 2008 All-Star Game’s First XI. It won’t be an easy task, but you can bet the staff at RSL knows what they’re going up against. And if you think former friends will go easy on one another, you better think again.
“I was just joking with [Olave] about how I’m going to laugh when I watch him and [Javier Morales] fighting,” Espindola said between laughs. “That’s going to be funny.”
It’s sure to be an exciting match when the two teams collide this weekend at Red Bull Arena. Get your tickets now at Red Bulls Ticket Central, or by calling 877.RB.SOCCER.