Photo by ISIPhotos.com
BY DAVE MARTINEZ
The New York Red Bulls have emerged from preseason in relative health heading into Sunday's opener. Even so, nagging injuries and key losses to the starting lineup will test the teams depth against a dangerous FC Dallas side.
Wilman Conde will be out for the match. The former MLS Best XI defender pulled up lame against the defending MLS Champion LA Galaxy last week during the Desert Diamond Cup in Arizona. Many feared that he had re-aggravated his surgically repaired foot, which kept the big defender out of action for nearly a full year. A kinder diagnosis revealed it was only a thigh strain.
“It’s quite typical to pick up these kind of injuries when you don’t have the basic preseasons in your body," Red Bulls coach Hans Backe said, "but we’ll see. We have to gamble a little bit. I’d like to see him playing.”
New York remain confident Conde will make an appearance with the side sooner rather than later. "With a soft thigh (injury) and some fluid, I would guess the beginning of next week he can start training," Backe calculated. "If training next week works well, he can definitely be an option against Salt Lake."
Meanwhile, last year's bench hero, Stephen Keel, will likely feature in Conde's place alongside Holgersson.
Several other Red Bulls picked up nagging injuries during the off season, but the Red Bulls boss did not feel it would prevent them from being ready for opening day. "I would say that we’ve been quite lucky after preseason that we have so few injuries," he said. "Normally you pick up a little bit more. I would say it’s only Conde that is out with injury, so I would say we’ve been lucky."
Jan Gunnar Solli (right hamstring) will be in the Red Bull's lineup this Sunday. "He did thirty minutes today, and felt quite okay. With treatment tomorrow, and with Friday, Saturday, he should be in," the coach revealed. Teemu Tainio will also feature for the side, while Victor Palsson (partially torn meniscus) is expected to be available.
Another clear loss for New York will be Rafa Marquez, who is still serving a suspension thanks to his key role during last season's melee against the LA Galaxy in the Eastern Conference Semifinal. Dax McCarty is expected to fill his spot.
“It’s a long, long season – 34 games and playoffs,” Backe observed. “So I don’t think any team are 100% ready for the starter. You will be in the next month when you’ve played competitive games, but I have a feeling we are in a good shape.”
RYAN MEARA, OPENING DAY STARTER
Offseason rumors connected New York with a plethora of goalkeeping options. At the end of the day, it is second round MLS Draft pick Ryan Meara who has won out as the Red Bull's starting keeper.
"He’s playing most of the first team games we’ve done so far and I think he did okay,” Backe said. In fact, the solid play of both Meara and backup Jeremy Vuolo has allowed Red Bull to ease their aggressive push for a veteran keeper while they offer both of these young players a month to make the job their own.
Meara will not only be facing his first professional match, but he will be doing so with a broken nose picked up during a preseason match against L.A. The injury did not seem to be a concern for Backe. "Worst case, he will have a mask," he said. "At the moment, it looks like Meara will be first choice.”
LUKE RODGERS – JUDGMENT DAY
The Red Bull's hope to find out the fate of Luke Rodgers sometime today. The aggressive English forward has been unable to return stateside after he over stayed his visa last season. Today's hearing at the U.S. Embassy in London will determine whether or not he will have a future with the team.
Though the Red Bulls have no inside information on which way the decision may go, Hans Backe looked at it as a "50/50" proposition. "If it’s yes, he will get the visa quite quick,” Backe said, “then he can almost just probably come in the beginning of next week.”
If not, New York will be looking towards a Plan B option. "We will have some money left if it's no,"Backe said, suggesting the team would look towards outside options. Though they have Juan Agudelo on board, he will be missing a lot of time this year due to international duty with the US senior and Olympic sides. The young American's absence will force New York to find a comparable replacement for Rodgers.
US OPEN CUP – A PRIORITY
After the team basically forfeited their participation in the US Open Cup last season, Hans Backe has doubled down on his desire to compete in the nation's oldest domestic club tournament this year.
"Definitely, the US open cup can be a proioty for us this year," Backe stated. The coach cited a congested schedule, international call-ups and a glut of mid-season injuries to justify last years decision to downplay the tournament. This year, a more forgiving schedule and a deeper roster will allow the team to challenge for the Cup.
"Yes, the depth and the schedule," Backe said. "That will help us alot. Much less travel to the west coast – also that were not playing when its FIFA days – that will help alot."
New York's recent signing of trialists Jhonny Arteaga, Jose Angulo, Tyler Ruthven and Brandon Barklage are expected to reinforce the team, keeping the Red Bull's competitive on both fronts. "They've been solid. I would say all of these guys and that shows when we signed them that they have been on a good level."