By DAN KARELL
Heading into the final week of the 2013 Major League Soccer season, the New York Red Bulls stand on the precipice of their first significant piece of silverware in club history, but they have some important decisions ahead.
With a top-two place in the MLS Cup playoffs wrapped up thanks to their 3-0 victory at the Houston Dynamo on Sunday, the Red Bulls could theoretically rest some of their veterans to prepare them for their Eastern Conference semifinals matches on November 2/3.
However, likely to the delight of Red Bulls fans everywhere, head coach Mike Petke plans on using the strongest squad he has available when the Chicago Fire visit Red Bull Arena on Sunday evening in their regular season home finale.
“Unless there’s players that absolutely need to be rested, there’s no need to rest (anyone),” Petke said during his weekly conference call with reporters. “We have a bit of momentum right now and we want to continue that. If everybody’s feeling 100 percent, if I get the thumbs up from the medical staff, if there’s no issues, then we’re for sure putting out our strongest lineup.”
Here are some more notes from this week’s conference call:
CARNEY AND ESPINDOLA PROGRESSING; MILLER STILL OUT
The Red Bulls injury list is starting to look thinner this week.
While Roy Miller remains a long-term concern and has been ruled out for this weekend, Petke said that left back David Carney and forward Fabian Espindola were making progress in their recovery from injuries, while Bradley Wright-Phillips is back to full fitness after suffering a hamstring injury in late September.
Petke was unsure if Carney would be available, but he said that if he’s back there will be plenty of tough decisions to make along the backline thanks to the play of Barklage last week at left back and the return to fitness of Kosuke Kimura, who also missed the match in Houston.
PRESSURE IS ON THE OPPONENTS
Considering everything that’s at stake on Sunday, there’s likely to be a lot of pressure on the Red Bulls players as many of the fan’s hopes and dreams of a title rest on their 90 minute performance.
However, Petke refuses to believe his team will feel any of the pressure, considering that they’ve played in pressure-packed situations before and that they don’t have to worry about making the playoffs since they’ve already qualified.
“My players have proven to me this year that they can play under pressure and that they can play in tough situations and I don’t see this game any differently,” Petke said. “We’re playing Chicago, we’re in the playoffs, they’re trying to either get in or stay in the playoffs so the pressure’s on them. I know that these guys, looking at their eyes and watching them go out in the Seattle game, Kansas City earlier this year, the Houston games, and they respond (in pressure).
“I think that they have the character to deal with situations like this, so there’s no pressure.”
TEAM IS ADDRESSING MAGEE FACTOR
Since arriving in Chicago on May 25, Magee has morphed into one of the league’s most prolific strikers, with 20 total goals this season and 14 in 21 games since joining the Chicago Fire.
Considering his skill and how well the Fire have played as of late, Petke admitted that the team is spending time focusing on him, but they’re not limiting their focus to just Magee.
“He’s a guy I really respect,” Petke said. “When he played for LA, especially come times like this in the season, he’s a game changer. Obviously he’s in a big discussion for MVP of the league this year and I think that’s deserving.
“Things that he does well we’ve been talking about and we’ve been looking at film. It’s not about stopping one player but obviously if you have a player with that impact on a team, you have to address it, and we have been addressing it.”
Former Red Bull Joel Lindpere, former New England Revolution midfielder Jeff Lawrentowicz, and Uruguayan National Team starter Arevalo Rios are other top players that the Fire have added since last offseason.
OTHER NEWS AND NOTES
- Petke complimented the South Ward and fans in the stadium all season for their commitment to the team regardless of the result: “I always expect a great atmosphere and I know that the South Ward and the rest of the crowd always deliver that for us there. I’m expecting a great night.”
- The Red Bulls coach played down any reports or claims of a scuffle at halftime in Houston between the Dynamo’s Brad Davis and the Red Bulls Tim Cahill, saying it’s all “much ado about nothing”.
- Petke said he was very proud of the play this season of wingers Johnny Steele and Eric Alexander this season, with Steele playing above expectations and Alexander living up to the hopes and expectations of Petke and assistant coach Robin Fraser.
What do you think of these notes? Do you see Petke playing a strong starting XI? Do you see Carney returning to start at left back? Do you believe that the team won’t wilt under the pressure of winning the club’s first ever Supporters Shield title?
Share your thoughts below.