Critics of the Red Bulls believe the team has gotten a break in the early part of the schedule. They say key offensive players were missing from the opposition, like Fabian Espindola of D.C. United and Robbie Keane of the Galaxy, while Chris Wondolowski of the Earthquakes played less than half the game. They say the Red Bulls’ high-pressing style took teams by surprise, and that the league will quickly catch on.
Excuses? Hey, you play who you play when you play them, and never apologize for earning points.
This week, however, shouldn’t pose an issue. When the Red Bulls travel to FC Dallas Friday night, the home side should have its regular lineup on the field.
It’s regular potent lineup.
“The tough thing about Dallas is even when they’re not playing well they’re always a threat,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said. “When they’re playing well they’re very good. They have a lot of guys that can hurt you in a lot of different ways. They’re very athletic, they’re good on set pieces. For us, we’re still going to go there and try and play a fast game and go after them with and without the ball, but we’re going to be really smart about exposing ourselves to some of their talented, attacking players.”
Dallas (6-2-2) has scored a Major League Soccer-high 17 goals this season, with the laurels spread between forwards Blas Perez (five), Fabian Castillo (four) and Tesho Akindele (three) and midfielders Mauro Diaz and Ryan Hollingshead (two apiece). Castillo leads the team with five assists while Diaz has four.
“I don’t think we’re going to change too much,” Marsch said. “We’re going to stick with what we do. … Our players are smart. There’s flexibility in how you use different guys, but we’re going to go there and play like we play and we’re going to put it to the test and we think it can hold up to the test.”
While Marsch feel s confident the Red Bulls (4-1-4) can stay with their usual game plan, you have to wonder if they might hold back a bit early, if only to take the crowd out of the game a bit.
“They’ve looked pretty good so there might be times in the game where we have to defend as a team,” midfielder Lloyd Sam said. “Away games are like that a lot of the times, too, so I’m ready for that challenge if they need more of that from me on the defensive side, but we’re still going to attack, too.”
While the Red Bulls are working on a short week, the concern, if there was one at all, was more mental than physical.
“I think we’re over it. I feel like we recovered,” midfielder Sacha Kljestan said. “I feel like we’ve talked about (the derby win over NYCFC) the next day, said ‘good win’, talked about some of the good things we did, talked about some of the bad things we did, and moved on. That’s the most important thing when you win or lose a game, move on, and I think we’ve done that already.”
“We’re in a frame of mind where we’re just moving forward,” he said. “When we came in on Monday there was still a lot of emotion from what that game was and a lot of reflecting, but now we’re moving forward. We had a good day off (Tuesday) and guys came back in charged up mentally and physically. We all see this Dallas game as a big challenge and this is another one where we get ourselves ready to go and make sure we put a good team on the field and go after it.”
Both teams are coming off emotional wins so this will be a good test of their focus. FC Dallas defeated the Galaxy, 2-1, when they scored twice in the final 13 minutes, while the Red Bulls won the first-ever New York City derby, also 2-1.
The only issue for the Red Bulls may be in central defense. Matt Miazga is out following his red card against NYCFC and Ronald Zubar, who seemed ready to return for the first time since the opening game of the season, did not train on Wednesday and Marsch said Zubar went to see a specialist about his lingering hamstring injury.
That will leave Damien Perrinelle and Karl Ouimette inside, with Chris Duvall and likely Kemar Lawrence on the outside. Lawrence has been a surprise this year and is giving Roy Miller, the team’s most tenured player, a strong challenge at left back.
“Any time you play one of these tough teams from the west it’s a challenge,” Kljestan said. “Vancouver has looked pretty good early in the season, Dallas has looked pretty good, so has Seattle. Those games are always a challenge. You only play these teams in the west one time and then not again until, hopefully, MLS Cup, so you’ve got to do well in those games because those are certainly games you can take big points from and obviously take confidence from.”
And speaking of confidence. Kljestan says Bradley Wright-Phillips, who scored both goals against NYCFC and has a team-high five for the season, appears to be getting on a roll.
“He’s the type of guy who can score three goals when he gets three chances,” Kljestan said. “He converted two of his three chances last weekend and that’s big for him. We hope his confidence can continue to grow and he can put the ball in the back of the net for us.”