Photo courtesy of the New York Red Bulls
By FRANCO PANIZO
UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Playing at JELD-WEN Field under normal circumstances is intimidating. Playing there in a season opener is even worse.
The New York Red Bulls have the honors (or bad luck) of having to play out the second scenario, as they visit Caleb Porter and the new-look Portland Timbers on Sunday in their first game of 2013. The Rose City is sure to be rocking hours before kickoff and the atmosphere will only grow in intensity the closer the game is.
While you would be hard-pressed to find a single person on the Red Bulls not anxiously awaiting Sunday night’s game, two players in particular are eager to get the ball rolling. Those two players are Kosuke Kimura and Eric Alexander.
No, the Red Bulls’ duo are not out seeking vengeance when they return to the place they temporarily called home. Rather, they are looking forward to playing in front of the raucous crowd that has quickly become one of the most recognizable and admirable in MLS.
“It’s going to be crazy out there, but at the same time you have to enjoy that,” Kimura, who spent four months of the 2012 season with the Timbers, told SBI. “Soccer is growing up in this country and especially in Oregon, you see that now on TV and everywhere, so now we go there and enjoy. That’s professional soccer. You feel the excitement and atmosphere and all that (but) you have to use that.”
Kimura may be encouraging his new teammates to enjoy the 90 minutes inside of JELD-WEN Field, but he also knows that playing there can be quite chaotic. With 20,000-plus Timbers fans sure to pack the stadium and root on their club with the renewed enthusiasm that comes with the start of a new season, the Red Bulls will surely have some communication problems.
That might be a tough challenge for a Red Bulls team with so many new parts to it, but it is a challenge they plan on tackling head-on.
Still, do not expect to see New York go in all-out-attack mode on Sunday. New head coach Mike Petke has emphasized all preseason long how tough the club needs to be defensively, and the message appears to be carrying over into the players.
“Obviously, we’re defenders. First job is to defend, no matter what happens,” said Kimura when asked about offensive responsibilities. “If I score a goal but I concede two goals, it doesn’t matter what I did for a goal. If I concede two goals, that’s it. You can’t do that.
“I’m a 100 percent defender, so defending comes first but then extra comes to supporting and going and joining the attack and Mike knows me and Roy [Miller], we’re experienced enough to do that and make the right decisions.”
Regardless of the tactics, going on the road and picking up some points against the Timbers in any manner would be a solid start to the season for the Red Bulls. Kimura and Alexander are both confident that is possible.
“It’s definitely going to be a hard place to play and we know that going in,” Alexander told SBI. “But we think we can get a result there.”
- A day after MLS Commissioner Don Garber said the Red Bulls would be moving their front office to New York City, a team source told SBI Thursday that the full front office was not moving and instead just some commercial and marketing functions would be relocated there in the future.
What do you think of Kimura and Alexander making their returns to Portland? Do you see them helping the Red Bulls to a victory at JELD-WEN Field?
Share your thoughts below.