HANOVER, N.J. – Roy Miller has only played 45 minutes in a friendly since returning from World Cup duty, but that apparently will not be enough to stop the New York Red Bulls from starting him on Wednesday.
The Red Bulls will pay a visit to Rio Tinto Stadium to lock horns with perennial Western Conference powerhouse Real Salt Lake on Wednesday night (9 pm ET; ESPN2), and it is expected that Miller will return to New York’s starting lineup in a league match for the first time since May 10.
Miller came back from his time at the World Cup with an injury, but he recovered in time to start at left back and play the first half of this past weekend’s 1-0 friendly win over Arsenal. He is likely to line up in that position again against RSL despite youngster Ambroise Oyongo recently proving that he too is capable of doing a steady job on the left side of the Red Bulls’ backline.
“I hope he could go 90. I’d rather not change my left back,” Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke said of Miller, who started in 10 of the club’s first 11 games of the season and received much acclaim before heading to Brazil with Costa Rica. “But knowing that we have Oyongo in the mix to play there is reassuring. But Roy came out of the 45 unscathed and he did very well, picked up where he left and he feels good. I’m hoping that he’ll go 90.”
The reintroduction of Miller into the lineup could leave Oyongo on the outside looking in, but the 23-year-old Cameroonian has been one of New York’s better players in recent weeks. Petke said a few weeks back that he would have to figure out a way to field both Miller and Oyongo, given their strong outings this season. The second-year head coach found a way to do so by playing the fearless speedster at left midfield in front of Miller in the win over Arsenal.
That experiment looks promising despite the small sample size of one half. Both players showed well against the Gunners, and had such a good understanding with one another in terms of who attacks and who covers the space behind that it was hard to guess that it was their first time playing together in a match.
“They’re brilliant, they’re brilliant,” said Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry when asked about the duo’s chemistry. “One of the things that’s good with that is both can play left back. Sometimes what can be tricky for a winger is when he finds himself as a left back because of whatever situation.
“… Hopefully that can be a good thing for us if the boss wants to start like that and see that in the future.”
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If both left-sided players start, regular left midfielder Eric Alexander would be in serious jeopardy of being relegated to a reserve role. Alexander, however, appears to be in store for a start at his more customary right midfield spot given the absence of incumbent Lloyd Sam, who will see his season streak of 20 consecutive matches started come to an end on Wednesday due to yellow card accumulation.
Petke did not say on Tuesday that he would be starting Alexander on the right side of the midfield, but that is where the versatile veteran spent much of 2013 before earning a surprise call-up to the US national team this past January.
“It would be a loss if we didn’t have someone else to fill in there, but I do have someone I’m confident to fill in there,” said Petke. “But obviously Lloyd has been one of our better players this year, for sure, at times our best player, so I guess in that sense it is a loss. But I have confidence in the guy I’m going to put in there.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.