It’s official: the 2017 MLS preseason is upon us. While RSL already had their first scrimmage game against Croatian side NK Istra 1961, the squad is gearing up for their first test against an MLS squad as they take o n the New York Red Bulls tomorrow in Arizona.
The Red Bulls kicked off their preseason with a 2-0 win over the Portland Timbers, thanks to a Portland own goal and a penalty kick from Red Bulls II midfielder VIncent Bezecourt.
While the majority of the Red Bulls roster from 2016 is back this season, they’ve also made a few changes that should impact the way they play this year. After losing captain Dax McCarty in a trade to Chicago, they’ll have to flesh out their midfield’s style of play to make up for his absence.
Even though we’ll likely see almost every healthy and available player that the Red Bulls have to offer throughout the game, they have an important CONCACAF Champions League game coming up on February 22 against Vancouver, so head coach Jesse Marsch will likely want to get a good look at his preferred starters as much as possible. Let’s take a look at some of the players to watch for in the game against RSL.
Goalkeeper - Ryan Meara
With regular ‘keeper Luis Robles out with the US Men’s National Team, 26-year-old Ryan Meara will be expected to start between the posts. While Meara hasn’t made an MLS appearance since April 24, 2015 while he was on loan to New York City FC, he spent last season in the USL and won the 2016 USL Cup Final with the New York Red Bulls II. He performed very well in the postseason for the USL side which included two saves in a penalty shootout during the Eastern Conference Final. Meara is expected to be Robles’ backup this year, and should see some significant playing time if USMNT coach Bruce Arena wants to keep the Red Bulls first-choice near the top of his list throughout the year.
Defender - Aurelien Collin
A name that all RSL fans are familiar with, Collin has been a Red Bull since April of 2016 after they acquired him from Orlando City. Collin really made his mark with Sporting Kansas City where he scored 11 goals in 107 games, and terrorized RSL on set pieces more than once in the process. He’s also known for being somewhat of an aggressive hot-head, accumulating 40 yellow cards and 5 red cards through his six years in MLS, so don’t be surprised if he gets frustrated easily with RSL’s attack.
Other notable defenders: Kemar Lawrence, Connor Lade, Sal Zizzo
Midfielder - Felipe
With McCarty now in Chicago and Sacha Kljestan out with the US Men’s National Team, Felipe will certainly be the focus of the midfield to start out this matchup. Starting against the Timbers in their first preseason game, he played 30 minutes and led the midfield charge along with a slew of youngsters. New York will look to Felipe to be a staple this season as a creative playmaker, and he’s proven to be just that — scoring 20 goals and notching 36 assists in only five MLS seasons.
Other notable midfielders: Alex Muyl, Sean Davis
Forward - Gonzalo Veron
Veron, one of New York’s three Designated Players, will be expected to start and head up the Red Bulls’ offense with the absence of Bradley-Wright Phillips. He’s a creative attacking player who has the ability to both create and finish chances — notching eight goals and one assist in 36 regular-season games over the past two years with the Red Bulls. He started and played 43 minutes against Portland and saw a couple good chances as he shook the rust off.
Forward - Robbie Findley
We can’t look at the Red Bulls’ preseason roster without mentioning our old friend Robbie Findley. After being released from NASL side Rayo OKC last year, he’s on trial with the Red Bulls, presumably fighting for a full contract ahead of this season. He started and played 30 minutes against the Timbers, but we’ll have to wait and see how much playing time he gets against RSL.
Not in preseason camp: Luis Robles (international duty), Gideon Baah (injury), Sacha Kljestan (international duty), Bradley Wright-Phillips (family reasons)