The New York Red Bulls travel to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts on Sunday night to take on the Eastern Conference-leading New England Revolution. The Red Bulls will be without three star players due to international duty and will, most likely, be without an additional two because of the turf field conditions that New England plays on.
Amidst that squad selection headache is the recent CONCACAF Champions League drawing, a tough and exciting U.S. Open Cup draw in the middle of the scheduled World Cup break, the new MLS expansion team across the Hudson, and the upcoming transfer window and the need to strengthen the squad. It might look like too much to handle but it’s par for the course for a team playing at such a high level. Head coach Mike Petke strives to focus on the immediate task at hand – the New England game – among the busy schedule, despite the news today that the team will also be without midfield Dax McCarty.
“In the first half [of the Kansas City game], Dax took a pretty bad knock to his knee. The situation looks like a couple of weeks, to be honest with you.” Petke said during Tuesday’s conference call before adding, “This is probably, if [an injury] was going to happen, the best time to happen with the World Cup coming.”
Add McCarty’s name to the growing list of inactives for Sunday night’s match alongside Tim Cahill, Roy Miller, Jonny Steele and potentially Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave. The latter two will potentially be held out due to the turf field.
“It’s one of those things I’ve said every year, you weigh the game against the season. What’s more important?” Petke asks rhetorically with regards to the importance of keeping Henry and Olave fit for the second half of the regular season, “There’s always a chance … however, history does tell [us] that [they] would usually not play on a surface like New England’s [Gillette Stadium].”
Beyond this week’s match, questions turned to future fixtures, especially the upcoming Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup fourth-round match-up with the New York Cosmos.
“Yeah, I know about the Cosmos. They’re close, I’ve seen them play a bunch of times. I know [Cosmos Head Coach] Giovanni [Saverese]. I know some of the players on the team. We scouted the game the other night [against Brooklyn Italians]” Petke said to reporters, “I know as much as I should know about them.”
Urged on about the possibility of this becoming a local derby and a rivalry, Petke was less verbose.
“I guess because they’re close by in proximity, you know, it makes up an interesting story. However, at the end of the day, we’re going to take the same approach we would if we were playing any other team in any other league.”
Last week Petke and the team finally found out who would be in their group for this year’s CONCACAF Champions League. The Red Bulls have been drawn into Group 3 against El Salvadorian league champions CD FAS and one of Toronto FC or the Montreal Impact, depending on the result of Wednesday night’s second leg of the Canadian Championship. Petke was very upbeat about the draw.
“From a logistical standpoint and travel-wise, it’s great that we got paired with the Canadian [Championship] winner because both Montreal and Toronto are, obviously, short flights.” Petke explained before sharing his excitement about being drawn with the unknown CD FAS, “It gives us an opportunity to play a new team that we’ve never faced before, [that we] know nothing about, and travel to a country that most of us have never played in. It’s gonna give us that excitement factor.”
Talk quickly turned to the latest big splash in MLS with the announced signing of David Villa to be NYC FC’s first player. Petke wouldn’t say too much about the move:
“Any time you sign a player that’s played at such a high level, it’s good for the league. David Villa is a good player and, as far as me facing him next year, I’m smack dab in the middle of the 2014 MLS season.” The head coach said before discussing the impending rivalry, “It takes a while to build up a rivalry, you know, as far as on the field stuff. As far as the derby goes, yeah, absolutely, NYC FC’s gonna be that.”
The Villa signing talk led to a small discussion about the Red Bulls’ own needs during the upcoming transfer window.
“We always want to improve at almost every position. From defense on up to forward. [If] we get a situation that we think a player could help the team, I’m very confident that we would act on it.”
Finally the conference call ended on a happier note with talk shifting to Tim Cahill and Roy Miller. Coach Petke was asked about his feelings on both men and their contributions to the club.
“Tim impresses me on many levels. I guess the top ones that I can say are his professionalism, his overall commitment to the team, his willingness to do anything for a win and for the team whether it be in MLS or, obviously, in the World Cup, and his overall attitude. I’ve said it all along, he’s the ultimate professional that a lot of the younger guys on the team can and do learn from on a daily basis. I’m sure it’s the same with the Australian national team.” Petke said before moving to his Costa Rican left back, “I’m proud of [Roy]. He’s come a long way especially since early last year and everything that went on. He’s really made a commitment to himself and to the team and to put things behind him. Mid-last year to early this year, he’s been one of, if not the best left back in the league. That’s my opinion. He’s good going forward, he’s good with the ball at his feet and he’s really cleaned up his defensive part in the team. I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Asked if he would be rooting to get his players back sooner Mike replied, “Well, yeah, selfishly of course. Selfishly I’d love to get them back as soon as possible.” Before laughing and explaining that wouldn’t be the case, “This is every four years so I’ll be rooting for three teams, to be honest with you, come a couple of weeks from now. Obviously Costa Rica and Australia are the two teams besides the U.S. that I will furiously be rooting for. My kids, my family, [and] the [Red Bulls] will all be pulling for those two and hoping that they do something special.”
At the end of the day, though, Mike Petke is focused on New England and especially can’t wait for later in the month when he, his staff, and his players can take some time off to recharge and prepare for the second half of the MLS regular season.
“The players need it and the staff certainly needs it as well.”