Oppositional Lowdown: New York Red Bulls

Talented side comes to Portland to kick off 2013 MLS season

Tim Cahill, NYRB

Photo Credit: 
(Getty Images)

Ahead of the Portland Timbers’ MLS season opener against New York Red Bulls at JELD-WEN Field (Mar. 3, 4:30pm PT, ESPN2, 750AM The Game), find out everything you need to know about the visiting team.

A brief history…
One of the 10 original franchises from when MLS started in 1996, New York have undergone three name changes since. Firstly, they were known as New York/New Jersey MetroStars, then MetroStars, and now New York Red Bulls, which has been their name since 2006.

A host of high-profile players and coaches have passed through the organization, yet they have never won MLS Cup. The closest that they have come to the big prize is their final appearance in 2008, where they lost 3-1 to Columbus Crew. They have won the Eastern Conference twice – 2000, 2010 – and remain one of the biggest franchises in the league.

How did they fare last season?
For a team that sets their sights on winning MLS Cup, anything else is considered a failure and that is why head coach Hans Backe was not offered an extension to his contract after they bowed out at the quarter-final stage of the play-offs to D.C. United. It was a bitter ending to a season that promised so much.

Having started with back-to-back defeats, New York then recorded three wins in a row and also went on a five-game winning streak between April and May. At times, they looked superb and amongst the very best in the league. However, inconsistency continued to haunt them and they could not shake that when entering the play-offs, where they drew the first leg away to D.C. United before narrowly losing the return game.

Who have they brought in for this season?
Well, New York are one of five teams with new head coaches in place for the 2013 campaign as Mike Petke has stepped up from assistant coach to replace Hans Backe. The new coach has been busy shaping his roster too with the arrival of some noted MLS talent in Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola (formerly of Real Salt Lake) as well as former Brazil international Juninho (Vasco da Gama).

New York expect some of their younger players to follow the lead of New York native Ryan Meara and Homegrown Player Connor Lade, who featured more than originally expected last term. They have placed some fate in rookies Michael Bustamante and Ian Christianson to step up and mesh with the more established players and challenge them for starting spots.

How did their preseason period go?
From a results perspective, it wasn’t great at all. It took longer than expected for Petke’s appointment to be confirmed, so he was thrown in at the deep end just before the preseason kicked off. The two opening wins in friendlies against Columbus Crew and Malmo were the high points as the next four games were used to experiment with players and tactical systems.

Head coach: Mike Petke
Taking over from Hans Backe, this rookie coach has the players on his side from his time as a trustworthy assistant and the fans due to his long association with the franchise as a player. The 37-year-old is a die-hard New Yorker and is being tipped to become one of the best young coaches in the league. He made a shrewd move by appointing former Chivas USA head coach Robin Fraser as his assistant, but this is his big chance to prove himself in the hotseat.

What He Said: “I know there is a lot of work ahead and our challenge is not easy. However, I am excited to take hold of my new responsibility and hopeful that I can help build a hard-working team that our club’s loyal supporters can all be proud of.”

Star Player: Thierry Henry
Yes, he is 35 year old and not as quick as he was back in his Arsenal days, but Henry is still one of the best players in MLS. The Frenchman showed his class last season with some stand-out displays and finishing up with nine goals and five assists isn’t bad at all. He will need to be watched closely by the Timbers defense even though he has only scored once in three games against them.

One To Watch: Dax McCarty
Amazingly, this energetic central midfielder is not a regular in the United States squad. That could change this year if New York provides him with better support and a platform to shine. The Florida-born player is one of the best in the league at linking play through his short passing, while his work-rate ensures that he is hugely popular amongst the team’s supporters.

What can the Timbers expect?
Lots of speed, slick passing and shots on goal. New York prides themselves on always being on the front foot – taking the game to their opponents and that should not change under new head coach Mike Petke. They will aim to outscore their opponents and hope that they can do enough defensively to stay on top.

There will be a different look to this team from last season due to the recruits that they picked up in the off-season and it will be interesting to see if Petke tries to tinker with their style of play. One thing that is for sure, is that they will be turning up at JELD-WEN Field expecting to win.

Where are they most vulnerable?
Undoubtedly, there are issues in defense. The goalkeeping situation is still not sorted with first choice Ryan Meara only returning from a hip injury and former University of Portland standout Luis Robles short on experience in MLS. But it is in front of the goalkeeper that has been the big problem for them over recent months.

A collection of injuries, signings who didn’t work out, and bad luck led to New York conceding 46 goals in regular season play last year. That isn’t good enough and it is why they have brought in Jamison Olave – MLS Defender of the Year in 2010 – to shore things up in their backline. But it may take time for the new-look defense to gel as a unit.

Who are their main threats?
The main man is obviously captain Thierry Henry. A World Cup, European Championship, UEFA Champions League winner, he has been there and won that. He is the leading light in New York’s attack, which has been bolstered by the arrivals of Fabian Espindola and Josue Martinez, who provide the speed and agility that Henry may lack.

Although, it is in midfield where New York do their best work with Brazilian playmaker Juninho coming in alongside Tim Cahill and Dax McCarty. Should they click as a trio, they could be truly frightening considering Juninho and Cahill’s experience in Europe allied to McCarty’s defensive qualities. Out wide, they can threaten too with Lloyd Sam and former Timber Eric Alexander primed for big seasons.

Previous Meetings in MLS
2011: June 19 – Portland Timbers 3-3 New York Red Bulls
2011: September 24 – New York Red Bulls 2-0 Portland Timbers
2012: August 19 – New York Red Bulls 3-2 Portland Timbers
Record vs New York Red Bulls: 0-1-2

Timbers connection
Dax McCarty – Selected as the Timbers’ first pick in the 2010 MLS Expansion Draft, but was traded to D.C. United for Rodney Wallace and a SuperDraft pick.
Kosuke Kimura – Traded in the offseason for the rights of Homegrown Player Bryan Gallego and allocation money after one season with the Timbers.
Eric Alexander – Traded in the offseason for allocation money after one and a half seasons with the Timbers, where he played 30 games.