The two local teams kick off the 20th MLS season on Sunday, March 8, and area fans, who are waiting with much anticipation to what the local soccer scene will look like, will have some idea come Sunday as to what’s in store for them this season. If all goes well, there should be some exciting times ahead, because for the first time there are two MLS teams in the New York/New Jersey area, which bodes well for an intense, Hudson River rivalry. The New York Red Bulls are still located across the Hudson River in Harrison (NJ), while the new men on the block are on the other side; New York City Football Club (NYCFC), in its inaugural season, will play in Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.
Interestingly, the Red Bulls, which has been in the area for a few years now, probably has more new faces than their cross-river rival. There was much upheaval in the Red Bulls club during the offseason; there is a new administration, including new managing director, Ali Curtis; gone is the entire coaching staff, with head coach Mike Petke, who led the team to the Eastern Conference title, and his first assistant Robin Fraser; also gone is the club’s first legendary player, Thierry Henry, along with popular Australian forward Tim Cahill; stalwart defenders Jamison Olave and Ibrahim Sekagya, who manned the central defense for most of last season, are now in the past and promising left-sided player who did so well for the team last season, Ambroise Oyongo, was traded to the Montreal Impact along with midfielder Eric Alexander.
Actually, by the third or fourth game, Red Bulls fans will notice more absentees from last year, while getting acquainted with the numerous new faces that are the new Red Bulls. Local fans, who now have a choice of soccer venues this season, will soon find out if it is worth it to continue to make the trip across the Hudson.
The burden is now on new Red Bulls Coach Jesse Marsh and his assistants, along with the leftovers, to justify the numerous changes: will the central defensive pair of Ronald Zubar and Damien Perrinelle solidify the defense the way Olave and Sekagya did? Will full backs Chris Duval and Roy Miller continue to shore up the defensive flanks? What about the all-important central midfield play that worked so well late last season when Petke paired Alexander with Dax McCarty? McCarty will be flanked in the middle by U.S. international Sacha Kljestan and Frenchman Felipe Martins, while veteran Lloyd Sam will be on the wing, so how effective will this new midfield trio be?
Bradley Wright Phillips scored a record-tying 27 goals last season with the help of Henry, Cahill and Alexander, but now he will be partnered by newcomer Mike Grella from Leeds United and the NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks. Midfield/forward Peguy Luyindula is still around, but he lacks speed of Oyongo, who I think will be badly missed. There are many questions the new Red Bulls must answer, and answer right away, or fans may look to NYCFC for answers. The Red Bulls play a televised game at Kansas City on Sunday, 7:00 p.m.
Head Coach Jason Kreis is no stranger to MLS because he was a leading scorer in the league and won MLS Cup three years ago as coach of Real Salt Lake. The team spent much time at its parent club in Manchester, England, training and playing very competitive games and seems ready to take on Orlando City, on Sunday, 5:00 p.m. (ESPN) as the two newest teams in MLS kick off the season.
Kreis has at his disposal former Real Madrid and Spain striker David Villa in good form; Villa scored the club’s very first goal in the first warm-up game in England about three weeks ago. He also has U.S. international Mix Diskerud to shore up the midfield. Despite its ‘new franchise’ label, NYCFC has more players on its roster with MLS experience that the Red Bulls. Kreis also has much more experience as an MLS coach than Marsh, who spent less than two years in his first MLS head coaching position in Montreal.
Players such as defenders Ned Grabavoy and former St. John’s University standout Chris Wingert, both from Real Salt Lake; Josh Williams from Columbus Crew, Josh Saunders and others bring MLS experience to Yankee Stadium. England’s Frank Lampard is expected to join the club in July, so NYFC will have a formidable team. Add to the line-up, the presence of second-year forward Patrick Mullins, who played in the MLS Cup for New England, and with the first-year enthusiasm and a wave of New York fans curiosity, there could be a lot of excitement brewing in Yankee Stadium.
USA over Trinidad
The U. S. Under-17 men’s national team defeated Trinidad and Tobago, 2-0, on Monday at the CONCACAF U-17 Championship in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Joe Gallardo Jr. and Haji Wright scored a goal in each half for the U.S. Gallardo Jr. scored a hat trick in the USA’s 5-0 bashing of Cuba in its first game, last Friday. With the wins, the Americans lead Group A after their two games; Trinidad and Tobago lost both games, losing to Guatemala in the opening contest.