Last year, the New York Red Bulls opened their Supporter Shield winning campaign against the Portland Timbers. The storyline heading into that match was two rookie head coaches squaring off against each other in Mike Petke and Caleb Porter. No one knew what to expect out of either coach on the season and some believed Petke would not be around past June. In the end, Petke was a finalist for Coach of the Year and Porter won the award. Now, the Red Bulls head north of the border in Cascadia to take on the current holders of the Cascadia Cup, the Vancouver Whitecaps. Vancouver’s home opener welcomes new head coach, and former Red Bull, Carl Robinson to the technical area.
The Whitecaps, as all teams in Cascadia, play on turf. It is very unlikely that Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave have traveled with the team. Right off first kick, Petke will not have his preferred starting lineup available and it won’t be the last. With this in mind, here are a few things to watch come tonight’s matchup.
RBNY new look backline vs Kekuta Manneh
While Kenny Miller is likely to start for the Whitecaps up top, Manneh has been seen playing along the midfield frontline and will battle with Nicolas Mezquida for a starting spot. Manneh spent the majority of this past pre-season injured but has made an impact when playing for the Whitecaps and he does seem to be in Robinson’s plan moving forward. Manneh has speed that will torch most backlines but NY has been known in the past as not being able to handle speed. If the Red Bulls are not aware of where Manneh is during the counter, they will more likely than not come home without a positive result. With no Olave, Armando and Sekagaya will slot centrally for NY, while Miller will yet again be the leftback and it’s unknown if Eckersely or Kimura will start at right back. Either way, neither Eckersely nor Kimura can easily handle speed.
The central midfield battle
Vancouver has been lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation during the preseason and Mike Petkehas stayed with the tried and true 4-4-2 for NY. For Vancouver, that’s an extra body in the center of the park to hold possession and interrupt NY’s play. Vancouver won the TFC DP deal in acquiring Mattias Laba on loan from Toronto after they had too many DP’s. Laba has only had one game with his Whitecaps teammates but it will be his job to track Cahill’s runs, whether he plays up top or centrally next to Dax. On the opposite side, Dax McCarty will have to watch Nigel Reo-Coker and keep him in check. Reo-Coker will have the free reign that Cahill does, so it will be vital for Dax to not give him time on the ball.
In their previous four meetings, the Red Bulls have never bested the Whitecaps losing one and drawing the other three. In both times the Red Bulls have played in Vancouver, both matches have ended in 1-1 draws. Last season, the Red Bulls drew all of their matches on turf as well. The Red Bulls need to come out of the gate swinging and set the tempo of their season.