ChampionsGate, Fla. – The first week of preseason concluded with a Sunday morning double header, as a split squad of New York Red Bulls players took on the Jacksonville Armada of the NASL and local college prep side Montverde Academy. New York came out on top in the day’s first match, besting the Armada 5-2 before falling to Montverde Academy by a 1-0 score line.
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Head coach Jesse Marsch deployed two groups with a mixture of first team regulars in the first match of the day, while a combination of newly signed homegrowns, trialists, and draft picks comprised the lineup for game two.
“They were quality opponents so they made it hard on us,” Marsch admitted. “For where we are in preseason, it was really good to have a day like today. There was some good, some bad, but that’s to be expected and we’ll continue to improve. All in all, today’s work was good. We’ll look at things on the video and figure out how to continue to get better.”
The first half against the Armada saw the Red Bulls concede the game’s first goal, but the largely veteran were unfazed, managing to erase the deficit and take the lead before halftime. The front six in particular began to find their footing over the course of the first 45 minutes, relying on their familiarity amongst one another. Both Gonzalo Veron and Sacha Kljestan were at the heart of most attacking movements on the afternoon, and the two combined to score a quality goal just before the stroke of halftime.
“The first half went pretty well despite giving up the first goal and putting ourselves in a hole,” Kljestan said. “The reaction was good. Jacksonville put us through a decent test, but the mentality of the team to get out of the first half at 2-1 was good.”
Marsch turned to his second unit in the second half in order to get a look at some fresh faces. But it was a familiar face that helped propel the Red Bulls to a convincing result, bagging two assists in the process. Captaining the side Dax McCarty’s absence, midfielder Mike Grella made the side tick with his well-timed runs and clever passes.
A young central midfield tandem of Sean Davis and Tyler Adams also filled in admirably for their first team counterparts (Felipe and McCarty), managing all the responsibilities that come with setting up shop in the middle of the park.
The day’s second match featured the youngest Red Bulls lineup of the day. How young? Well, second year defender Shawn McLaws was considered the wily vet of the group. The matchup with Montverde Academy was a chance for Marsch and his staff to get a closer looks at some unknown commodities in a proper match setting.
It proved to be a difficult match for an inexperienced Red Bulls side still trying to adjust to a new system. Montverde managed to tally the game’s only goal inside 15 minutes, and despite several chances as the game wore on, the match ended at 1-0.
“It’s not something that happens overnight, it takes time,” Marsch explained after the match. “We saw that last year with the guys that have been around for a year. The benefit of that is they can help some of these new guys explain what it feels like to be in the middle of it and deal with certain moments. It’s about our entire group trying to help everyone get better and better.”