The New York Red Bulls start their 2019 MLS Campaign this weekend. But don’t expect to see the first choice squad take on the Columbus Crew SC. The Red Bulls are balancing the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinals series against Santos Laguna, so squad rotation is a must.
“We’ve said it, I’ve said it, we have a deep roster and we believe in it,” said Chris Armas following Wednesday night’s victory over Atlético Pantoja. “And we have to be calculated in how we utilize it and especially on short rest. So we will rotate some players on the weekend and we know that we can trust the guys that we have and that we’ll go to Columbus and be aggressive and go after three points.”
Armas has a slew of options at his disposal. In the attacking third, the team is flush with capable depth players. The defensive side of the ball could prove more challenging. A Sean Nealis and Amro Tarek selection in central defense is a possibility, but both players are brand new to the Red Bull system. That also leaves a question mark surrounding the outside backs.
Kemar Lawrence still needs minutes to regain match fitness, and Michael Murillo’s CCL suspension complicated matters for the Red Bulls. Does Armas send out Lawrence and Murillo Saturday against the Crew?
Expect Cristian Casseres Jr., Omir Fernandez, and Brian White to all see time this weekend. Marcus Epps, Florian Valot, and Vincent Bezecourt are likely to see time as well.
A new Crew?
The roster remains largely unchanged, but the organization around the roster rotated significantly. Caleb Porter took over as head coach upon Gregg Berhalter’s appointment to the US Men’s National Team. Porter achieved success at the Portland Timbers, and turned Akron into a college soccer powerhouse. Can he do the same with the Crew?
Higher up the chain, the Haslam family took over team ownership when Anthony Precourt threatened to move the Crew to Austin, Texas. Precourt’s popularity among the Crew fanbase evaporated, and his removal celebrated. Opening the year without the cloud associated with the threat of moving the team will equally be celebrated in Columbus.
Players to watch
Omir Fernandez is still an unknown quantity in the league. The homegrown player is wowing the Red Bulls players and coaches. The Red Bull fans are not long behind. His speed, movement, and nose for goal could prove Fernandez the exception to the Red Bulls start first in USL philosophy for young players.
Pedro Santos struggled last season to hit the target despite his 72 shots. The inability to keep his shots on frame kept him from be a truly dangerous, game changing winger. Santos showed well during the preseason, and this could be the year he breaks out. It is likely his last shot.
Photo by Bill Twomey Photography