This week, we get to really have our first glimpse into what our team could look like this season. Sure, RSL played a scrimmage already against NK Istra 1961, but we didn’t get to see much from the highlight video and the game largely flew under the radar.
On Tuesday, RSL will take on the 2016 Eastern Conference regular-season winners New York Red Bulls in their first preseason test against an MLS side. New York already played against the Portland Timbers and snagged themselves a 2-0 win.
What — or who — can we expect to see?
Typically, these preseason games have three 30-minute periods, and a lot of teams switch out the entire lineup in each period so everybody can have a chance to get some minutes on the field. That’s the way it went for RSL in their first scrimmage — 33 different players had their time on the pitch, and that’s not even including Albert Rusnak, Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, or Matt Van Oekel.
Obviously, chances are we’ll be able to see the majority of the team’s roster, including plenty of Monarchs players. Since Rusnak flew down to meet up with the team just a couple of days ago, it remains to be seen whether we’ll see him get any minutes on the pitch in this first matchup.
This game will be the first of seven chances for Cassar and Co. to test out different formations, multiple player combinations, and plenty of tactics to fine-tune the squad ahead of the regular season.
What we do know is that we won’t see the Wall of the Wasatch, as he is out with the US Men’s National Team for international duty.
The Red Bulls may take a different approach. Their season starts a bit early, as they have a CONCACAF Champions League matchup on February 22nd against the Vancouver Whitecaps, so we may see head coach Jesse Marsch trot out a more regular and steady lineup in an effort to get his regular players completely match fit before then.
Amidst a busy offseason, the Red Bulls were among many teams making big moves. They sent midfielder and captain Dax McCarty to the Chicago Fire for $400,000 in allocation money in a move that shocked MLS fans everywhere. They also lost Omer Damari, Karl Ouimette, Ronald Zubar, and Chris Duvall for varying reasons.
Despite all that, much of their core from 2016 is returning, headlined by Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan — although neither player will be in the lineup for this game.
Let’s not forget to mention that our old pal Robbie Findley is currently on trial with the Red Bulls too. He played in their match against Portland on Friday and will most likely make an appearance against his old club also.
Looking to the future
Although most of the veterans and regular starters will get playing time, be on the lookout for a whole grip of youngsters — including Brooks Lennon, whose loan deal has yet to be finalized — to be fighting for their chance to prove that they deserve a spot on the first team.
Soak it in and enjoy the preseason. Also, don’t be fooled into thinking these are all purely light-hearted friendlies. Things can still take a nasty turn, as we learned in the 2011 preseason game against Sporting Kansas City — though we hope we don’t have another game like that for a long time.
Following the game against New York, RSL will face off against San Jose on Friday before they head to PDX for the Portland Timbers Preseason Tournament.