Although the value of preseason results is always under debate among prognosticators, there was a general sense of excitement at Red Bulls camp Tuesday morning as they prepared for their doubleheader against their first MLS opponent of the season, the Chicago Fire, on Wednesday.
The Red Bulls kicked off its preseason slate with three matches against Mexican sides and are eager to see how they compare against their Eastern Conference foe. The Reserve Sides of both teams will face off at 11:00 AM before the First Teams play at 1:00 PM.
“I think the play within the league is way different than when you play international games,” said midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy, who made his return to the squad after missing the first trip due to immigration issues. “I think you have a lot less time on the ball and the teams press a lot harder. Obviously, the rivalry and playing a team from the east, it will spice it up a little bit so it should be a good game.”
Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe is looking to give most of his players in the two matches between 60 and 90 minutes of time on the pitch. This plan would be consistent with the team’s fitness build-up for the regular season after several players featured in more than 45 minutes for the first time in a 3-2 loss to Chivas de Guadalajara last Wednesday. After a dominating 70 minutes, the Red Bulls conceded three goals to drop their first result of the season. There was little worry, however, among the Red Bulls regarding the loss.
“We’re still early in preseason,” said defender Tim Ream. “Towards the end there, I think a lot of guys in there started getting fatigued and that’s the way it goes in preseason. It’s something we can build on though. It was a good performance for the first 70 minutes and we have to keep going and play the same way.”
Chicago is early in their preseason, coming off a 2-2 tie against Florida Gulf Coast University last Thursday – its opening match. Despite the fact that the Fire did not qualify for the playoffs, Backe expects Chicago to provide a solid test.
“It’s a tough team. It’s a hard team to beat,” Backe said. “We were a little bit lucky in the first game at home winning one-nil in the opener. But then in the second game, when we tied nil-nil, I think we played really well and should’ve won that game.
“We’re looking more at our own playing style and getting that to work as good as possible,” he added. “But of course when you play another MLS team, you can see how good you are in a way and what state you are in before the season starts. I’m looking forward to that.”
Ballouchy joined defender Roy Miller and goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul, who were both away on international duty, in Florida for the trio’s first Red Bulls preseason camp away from home this year. Backe said that all three players will need to fight for their spots on New York’s deep roster.
“It just shows there are a lot of talented guys on this team and a lot of guys fighting for spots,” Ream said. “Every spot is up in the air still and there’s not one guy who is safe. With those guys coming back in the fold, it makes competition even that much tougher.”
- Backe said to local reporters Monday that he was going to possibly experiment using Jan Gunnar Solli as a right back and trialist Teemu Tainio in midfield. However, he said today that he is unsure he will do that against the Fire.
- Still, Backe said that his multiple options were essential in being a top team in MLS: “We have players that are versatile and can play in different positions, and that’s good for us. I think with the salary cap, you can’t have experts at every position. You need to have players who can move around in different positions,” Backe said.
- While the Red Bulls were in Mexico, Ballouchy trained with the U.S. Under-17 squad in Bradenton, FL. He said he feels very fit as he went through three different sessions (soccer, running, gym workout) per day. Now, he just wants to get familiar with his old and new teammates: “Even in training, I’ll try to be working on that – just trying to click back with everybody and trying to get on the same page with everyone else,” he said.
- On a team personnel note, Hector Merino has joined the team this week as a temporary assistant equipment manager for this trip.
Statistic of the Day:
40 – The minute Joel Lindpere scored Red Bull Arena’s first-ever MLS regular season goal in a 1-0 win over the Fire on March 27, 2010. Lindpere also made history a week prior, becoming the first player to find the back of the net at Red Bull Arena in the 11th minute during a 3-1 victory over Santos FC.