Photo courtesy New York Red Bulls
BY DYLAN BUTLER
MARABELLA, Trinidad – While their form back in the United States has been dreadful, the New York Red Bulls view their trip to Trinidad & Tobago as a chance for a fresh start, a possible rare bright spot in an otherwise forgettable season.
On Wednesday, the Red Bulls trained at Manny Ramjohn Stadium, named after a famed Trinidadian long distance runner, in preparation of tonight’s CONCACAF Champions League Preliminary Round opening leg against Caribbean champion W Connection (8 p.m., Fox Soccer Channel, Galavision).
For many on the Red Bulls, this is their first trip to the southernmost Caribbean island and they’re hoping to leave their domestic doldrums back in New Jersey.
“I definitely hope we all take this game as an opportunity for us to make something out of the season,” Red Bulls captain Juan Pablo Angel said after Wednesday’s training session. “This is the first time this club is representing MLS internationally. We’ve got to make sure we do it right. We’re carrying the Red Bull flag for the first time outside this country in a very important competition.”
Thus far, Major League Soccer hasn’t fared well in the competition, in its second year of existence. Last year, the New England Revolution were thrashed by Joe Public, 6-1, on aggregate in the preliminary round and Chivas USA were downed by Panama’s Tauro, 3-1.
D.C. United went winless in the group stage and the Houston Dynamo were bounced in the knockout stage by Atlante, 4-1.
Already this year, Toronto FC fell to the Puerto Rico Islanders, 1-0, at home in the opening leg and D.C. needed a Jaime Moreno penalty kick to rally to tie Firpo of El Salvador at RFK Stadium.
The Red Bulls are attempting to join the Columbus Crew and Houston Dynamo in the group stage.
“For the short story that this franchise has, I think it’s important that it’s written in the right way,” Angel said. “Hopefully we make the most of it. Knowing that all the circumstances have been very difficult for us this year. This could be a great chance for us.”
The tournament is a good chance for W Connection, which currently sits in fifth place in the Digicel Pro League, to raise its profile internationally.
“It gives us an opportunity to be on the world stage, so to speak,” W Connection coach Stuart Charles Fevrier said. “The players are very motivated because in the Caribbean, it’s not often we get to play at that level.”
But its players also know that, despite their opponents’ woeful season, beating the Red Bulls will not be an easy task.
“They’re a dangerous team coming because they don’t have anything to play for in the MLS so this tournament is the tournament that can bring them a bit forward,” W Connection captain Elijah Joseph said. “They will be very dangerous coming and playing we at home.”
So who will step on the field tonight? It’s likely that Austrian Ernst Obster makes his debut and defender Kevin Goldthwaite will return after missing four games with a groin injury.
Not making the trip, though, are Carlos Johnson, who is targeting the return leg at Giants Stadium for his return, and Mac Kandji (hamstring).
While other MLS squads have used a mixture of starters and reserves in the Champions League, Osorio should place his strongest XI on the field tonight.
“We’re finally in a good position to select a team tomorrow,” Osorio said after training on Wednesday. “No disrespect to any of the players, but in the past trying to do a team selection from 13 or 14 available players was a tough task. Going into tomorrow’s game we have 18 players to choose from, which is very good.”
What do you think the starting XI will be? Are you excited about the opportunity or do you think the Red Bulls will blow it? Share your thoughts below.