The New York Red Bulls will once again host the Colorado Rapids in their season opener. Two years ago, New York romped the Rapids 4-1 on braces behind Kenny Cooper and Thierry Henry. That was 2012 and this is 2014 and a lot has changed for both clubs since.
While Colorado was busy naming Pablo Mastroeni their head coach last Saturday, the Red Bulls were hosted by the Whitecaps over at BC Place for first kick weekend. After all the talk of cohesion in the offseason, Mike Petke decided on an entirely new look backline that had not even played a single minute in pre-season together. The result was a 4-1 lashing in Carl Robinson’s first official outing as a head coach. Petke put the blame on himself and Henry has said New York must get a case of amnesia and forget about last weekend’s result.
With Henry and Olave returning to the starting lineup, Pete still isn’t ready to blame the newcomers from last week for all the mistakes that they made. However, he was very mum this week on what his backline or starting lineup would look like. My prediction is that he trots out a starting lineup very similar to the 2013 Red Bulls. Meaning, Kimura and Miller slot back into their fullback roles. Cahill will move back alongside Dax, making way for either Luyindula or Bradley Wright-Phillips to start alongside Henry. The only real question is who starts next to Olave in the center of defense.
Colorado had a big injury bug in 2013 and it somewhat has carried over into 2014. Rookie of the year winner Dillion Powers is still questionable for the match in Harrison, NJ tonight and if he can play, he has said himself he is not 90 minutes match fit. The Rapids surprise of 2013, goalkeeper Clint Irwin is also a game time decision with a leg injury. Even though Powers was the rookie of the year, Vincente Sanchez would fill in for Powers and that’s not such a bad thing for Colorado. In place of Irwin, however, would be a 2014 second round SuperDraft pick in John Brener making his MLS debut.
Against Vancouver, New York had not bite in the midfield to slow down the counter and let Vancouver move freely in the transition. NY had 58% possession but failed to close down Vancouver’s midfielders anytime they were anywhere near the top of the 18-yard box. The Whitecaps only completed 1 cross the entire match, and even though Colorado has 2013’s best crosser of the ball in leftback Chris Klute, this won’t stop them from being dangerous. The Rapids look like they can play much in the same fashion as the Whitecaps did last season, on the counter and through transition. While Edson Buddle may not be a better finisher than Kenny Miller, I believe that Sanchez and Torres are better than Fernandez and Mattocks. If I were playing the role of Mike Petke, I’d drop Cahill back to slow up Sanchez and to not give him as much time on the ball. Cahill seemed to be a ghost of himself in Vancouver but the man had just flown around the wall to play in the match so he, like everyone else, gets a pass for his performance. New York failed to step to close players down when they were in reasonable shooting distance and New York was shelled from long range in Vancouver. The blame for that falls on Eckersely, McCarty, and Alexander. With Cahill dropped back a bit, that mentality will change. Lastly, it looks as if Shane O’Neil will start his third season with a different position. In 2012, O’Neil was a defensive midfielder and in 2013 he was a center back. Now in 2014, it looks as if he’ll be the starting right back and his first task will be to mark Thierry Henry.
Before the match, the Red Bulls organization will do something of a first for this franchise: hang a championship banner up in the rafters. While it was a sight to behold last season and great to live, Petke and his team are looking to move forward through 2014 and that starts with picking up 3 points at home against Colorado.
(image courtesy of newyorkredbulls.com)