In the preseason, when new Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch was asked how much importance would be placed on the U.S. Open Cup this season, his response shocked – and likely pleased – Red Bulls fans everywhere.
He said the team was going for the trophy.
That was a surprise to many, considering the Open Cup had never been a priority in the club’s previous 19 years. Still, fans had to wait to see if Marsch was good on his word.
In the first Open Cup game against the minor-league Atlanta Silverbacks, Marsch fielded close to the first-team lineup in a 3-0 victory June 16. Even then, fans wondered if that was done to prevent the Red Bulls from crashing out of the tournament early, an embarrassment that happened far too many times in team history.
The next game, against the Cosmos, was more about revenge over the previous season’s embarrassing exit at the hands of the Cosmos, as well as showing soccer fans in the tri-state area just who the big boy in town still was. With another strong lineup, the convincing 4-1 victory July 1 accomplished both.
Today, when the Red Bulls take on the Philadelphia Union in the quarterfinals – their third straight Open Cup home game – they know a victory will bring them one step closer to a magical piece of hardware that seemed so far away in past years. And don’t expect anything less than the strongest possible lineup on the field.
“It will be a version of it,” Marsch said. “It’s just trying to see, on hot day with a quick turnaround, what fresh legs on the field help us. The strategy is to go in with a really good team and go after the game with our best team that we think is fresh and ready to go, and then we’ll get through that and move on to the next day with Chelsea (in the International Champions Cup).”
With the starters drained from an energy-sapping 2-0 victory over Orlando City SC Saturday night in Florida, there has been little time to recover for today’s match. But the Red Bulls have been in this situation before. They played three regular-season games in seven days from April 26-May 2, and six games in 19 days from June 16-July 4.
Today’s Open Cup match is the first of two games at Red Bull Arena and will begin at 4 p.m. It will be followed by an ICC game between Paris Saint-Germain and Fiorentina.
“Yeah, it’s a factor because it will be hot,” Marsch said about the early start time. “The sun will be out so it won’t make life easy on either team. We’re going to manage that the right way. It was good taking the charter back (from Florida) because physically it helped us recover quickly and get back here and start our routine. The guys will be ready to go.”
The Red Bulls expect to have defender Roy Miller back but it’s unclear if he’ll be available. Miller played the final 11 minutes of regulation and all 30 minutes of extra time for Costa Rica against Mexico Sunday night in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Seconds before the game would go to penalty kicks, the referee whistled Miller for a foul in the box and awarded Mexico a penalty kick, which Andres Guardado converted for a 1-0 victory.
Replays showed that there was minimal contact between Miller and Mexico’s Oribe Peralta, and the penalty kick should not have been called. Understandably, Miller was devastated.
“We texted (Sunday) night and I told him that I felt awful for him because I thought the call was ridiculous,” Marsch said. “I gave him the option. I said, ‘Listen, if you need a day to regroup and recover, then take it.’ He texted back right away ‘No, I’ll be there tomorrow. I want to keep going.’ He thought it was important in this time to just keep himself going.
“He’s a good man, he’s an honorable man. He’s handled this situation with class. Even being back here, I know it’s not been easy for him, but I told him that this is a big family and we’re all in this with him. We know it’s a tough time for him, but we’re going to help him get through it.”
Though the Union also played Saturday – theirs was at 4 p.m., a 2-1 loss in Toronto – it didn’t match the conditions the Red Bulls endured in Orlando. However, the Union suffered two injuries, a head injury to midfielder Andrew Wenger and a sprained ankle to defender Richie Marquez, and their availability today is questionable.
Despite the weather conditions in Florida, and Orlando City playing the final 58 minutes down a man following a red card, Marsch came away impressed with the expansion club.
“They’re a good team. On that turf, it was hot,” Marsch said. “We struggled physically to get going a little bit. We get the early lead, which on the road when you get the early lead then naturally other team pushes a little bit more and starts to have a little bit more possession.
“As the game went on we made little adjustments to make sure that we weren’t giving away much, even if we were giving away possession. So as the game went on we made a few adjustments. That’s a good team and they played well and they made it hard on us.”