Red Bulls-Whitecaps FC Preview
The New York Red Bulls finally won a championship last season, but they again fell short of their first MLS Cup.
They’re looking to change that in 2014.
After making few changes during the offseason, the Red Bulls attempt to get off to a strong start by getting their first victory over the retooled Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday night at BC Place.
New York unexpectedly claimed its first title of any significance in 2013, winning the Supporters’ Shield while going 17-9-8 under first-year coach Mike Petke. Postseason success continued to elude the club, however, as it was eliminated 4-3 over two legs by Houston in the Eastern Conference semifinals after closing the regular season on a 6-0-3 unbeaten streak.
Despite the disappointment, the Red Bulls opted against changing the roster much.
"Like I said, I’m not about to disrupt the quality that I think we have in this team, and the chemistry we’ve built up over a year to bring someone new that we think could be good, but giving up something that is obviously valuable to us," Petke told the team’s official website. "It’s difficult within the league, but not impossible."
The Red Bulls will again be led by designated players Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill.
Henry had 10 goals and a team-high nine assists last year, while Cahill’s 11 tallies led New York. However, only Cahill managed to score in the playoffs against the Dynamo.
Petke is entertaining the idea of resting both of them and defenders Roy Miller and Jamison Olave for the season opener. Cahill scored two goals in Australia’s 4-3 loss to Ecuador in a friendly in London on Wednesday, while Miller appeared in Costa Rica’s 2-1 win over Paraguay.
Henry and Olave routinely sat out games played on artificial turf last season. Henry hasn’t appeared in two previous visits to Vancouver, both 1-all draws with the most recent coming June 20, 2012.
"There are certain players that perhaps physically, (it) wouldn’t be the best situation to play them this game coming up," Petke said. "I have a pretty good idea (of my starting lineup)."
New York is 0-1-3 all-time against the Whitecaps, losing 2-1 on June 1 in the lone matchup last season.
Unlike the Red Bulls, Vancouver underwent an overhaul after going 13-12-9 and falling short of the playoffs last season. The Whitecaps also are trying to replace Camilo Sanvezzo, who led the league with 22 goals before forcing a transfer to Mexico’s Queretaro following a contract dispute.
Perhaps in an effort to fill that void, first-year coach Carl Robinson is installing an up-tempo, offensive-minded scheme.
"The way I’m going to play, my fullbacks are going to attack," he told the league’s official website. "They’re going to get forward and get balls into the box."
Kenny Miller is the likeliest candidate to try to get on the end of those passes. The Scottish international was second on the team with eight goals in 21 matches last season.
Uruguayans Sebastian Fernandez and Nicholas Mezquida and Argentine Matias Laba are expected to add some creativity to the midfield. Laba, 22, was acquired in a trade with Toronto, where he scored one goal in 16 games last season.
"I brought in very good players," Robinson told the team’s official website. "They’re technically very good players. They understand the pass-and-move concept of the game. They’re playing on their front foot the entire game."
Defensively, the Whitecaps are again led by captain Jay DeMerit, who was limited to eight games last year due to injuries.