Dane Richards Mexico

Preseason Training in Mexico: Day 1

There were many reasons for the Red Bulls’ success in going from the worst team in Major League Soccer to becoming the top club in the Eastern Conference a year later in 2010. And while the influx of new personnel was largely praised for the turnaround, midfielder Dane Richards, a holdover from a 2009 campaign the fans would want to forget, was instrumental to New York’s winning ways.

The speedy Richards, now the second longest tenured player with New York after joining in 2007, found his form in the team’s stretch run last year, scoring five of his goals in the last seven regular season games, including the strikes that clinched a playoff berth and the conference championship. To cap off the year, Richards helped Jamaica win the Digicel Caribbean Cup and won the tournament’s Golden Boot by tallying three goals.

“First, we accomplished the goal of winning the championship and I was the Golden Boot winner,” Richards said. “Personally, it was good for me and for the country.”

Part of Richards’ success could be linked to the addition of new players, including midseason acquisitions Rafa Marquez and Thierry Henry.

“Overall, it was a great team effort but the addition of those two players would drive attention towards them more. It just opened space for me with Rafa’s precise passing and Thierry with his movement. Hopefully, this year it can continue and it would get better for me,” Richards said.

Heading into preseason, the former Clemson University standout will look to solidify his starting role. According to head coach Hans Backe, he definitely considers Richards a wide, right sided midfielder and would only plug him at forward, another position he has played in the past, on a temporary basis if needed.

“He’s competing of course on the wide right side with some other players,” Backe said. “You never know from year to year how they will develop and improve, but the last two months (of the season) for Dane were exceptional and hopefully, he could take one more step.”

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The team will start its preseason match schedule on Wednesday, Feb. 9 against Atlante at 8:00 PM local time. The Cancun-based Atlante squad has captured three Mexican Primera Division championships since their inception in 1916 and played the Houston Dynamo in 2009, beating the MLS squad by a score of 3-0. We’ll be providing live coverage of the match.

After spending a week training with Atlas, midfielder Rafa Marquez joined camp. The Mexican National Team star greeted the team upon its arrival late last night and was with his teammates this morning on the training pitch. For the first time in over a year, Marquez was able to enjoy a true offseason from soccer and Backe hopes that he comes back refreshed for 2011.

“It’s probably the first time for many, many years that Rafa has had a break for around eight weeks,” Backe said. “With players being involved in the UEFA Champions League, national teams, I just think they had the perfect vacation just to slow down, get fresh and start again. Hopefully, they can stay fit without injuries in the preseason.”

Looking at some of the longest tenured players, the Red Bulls now have:
Carlos Mendes – March 2005 (date joined)
Dane Richards – Jan. 2007
Danleigh Borman – Jan. 2008

Recently retired Seth Stammler was previously the longest continuously tenured player, having been with the club since 2004.

- In the team’s first training session, they participated in two-on-two short sided games before going to a larger field session and a team fitness drill. In the afternoon, the players split into groups for gym sessions at the hotel. It has been raining in the area recently but the players were met today with overcast and humid conditions.
- As previously announced, Red Bulls Bouna Coundoul and Roy Miller were called up to their respective national teams and will not be in camp in Mexico.
- When we caught up with Backe the other day in New Jersey, he said that he would immediately try to find a potential starting lineup for the beginning of the season. Furthermore, he said that he would not experiment too much with formations and the system the team would play.
- Check out this video featuring the club’s travel day Friday through the eyes of the Team Admistrator.

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What do you think of Richards’ emergence and what do you expect of him next year? What lineup would you like to see Backe trot out? What are you expecting of Marquez this year? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section and stay tuned to NewYorkRedBulls.com for more updates.