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Red Bulls Pre-season update

KhanoSmithJPA (New York Red Bulls)

                                             Photo courtesy of Red Bull New York

The New York Red Bulls are less than a month away from starting the 2009 season and have settled into Argentina where the club will spend the next two and a half weeks shaping itself into a team capable of improving on last year's MLS Cup final appearance.

There is still plenty of shaping to be done and you could argue that no team in MLS has as many unresolved questions heading into the season as New York (though the LA Galaxy might argue that point).

Head Coach Juan Carlos Osorio did take time out before departing for Argentina to answer reader questions. SBI will look to post those later this afternoon. For now, here is a closer look at some of the trends in camp so far this pre-season for the Red Bulls:

Rookie first-round draft pick Jeremy Hallhas spent a bulk of the pre-season playing in a central midfield role, but he has also gotten some looks at right fullback. Surprisingly enough, Hall is actually more familiar with the right back position than central midfield, having been a right back with the U.S. Under-17 national team. Osorio is impressed with Hall's combination of attacking skills and physical tools and sees him as a potential box-to-box central midfielder who could provide some goals from the middle of the field. There's a steep learning curve for the long-time winger though, so nobody should expect Hall to be transformed into Michael Essien overnight.


Fans clamoring for the club to sign an attacking midfielder shouldn't hold their collective breath too long. Jorge Rojas is going to be the team's attacking midfielder and when he isn't available you can look for Osorio to use a combination of Luke Sassano, Seth Stammler, Sinisa Ubiparipovic and Juan Pietravalloin central midfield. Even in cases where the club uses Stammler and Sassano or Pietravallo in central midfield together, the Red Bulls are confident that the attacking players the club has now will provide enough scoring chances to offset using two defensive midfielders.


Don't look for Dane Richardsto spend too much time on the left flank this year. While Osorio did try all his speedsters on the left before acquiring Khano Smith, it is unlikely that Richards will ever be deployed there. Smith is a strong candidate to start there, while Macoumba Kandji and Dominic Oduro could also be used there, though the latter two are more likely to play as left forwards in a 4-3-3, which is a formation the Red Bulls are likely to use a good amount this year.


If you are wondering what sort of lineups we might see in a 4-3-3, here are a few front sixes you could see:












Don't expect a steady diet of the 4-3-3, but with the attacking weapons the club has, it should be used more than it was last year. Osorio toyed with it on a handful of occasions in 2008.


A Kevin Goldthwaite-Mike Petke central defense tandem is looking like the most likely duo to start the season, though the Red Bulls are still actively searching for a central defender. As of now, the club has just Goldthwaite, Petke and Andrew Boyens as centerbacks on the roster. Second-round draft pick Babajide Ogunbiyi has yet to join the team and has stated that he won't sign with the team for anything less than a senior contract (meaning he won't play for a Developmental Salary.). Trialist Albert Celades is seen as a central defender option despite spending more of his career as a defensive midfielder.


The Red Bulls will be signing a left back before the season starts. The question at this point is which left back. Salvadoran defender Alfredo Pacheco remains the favorite to be signed.


So what will be the starting lineup come March 19th? Here is one stab at the lineup could be in the season opener vs. Seattle:







That's all for now. Be sure to look out for the Q&A with Osorio later today (or Tuesday morning at the latest). For now, feel free to share your thoughts on the above story in the comments section below.


  1. terrible lineup. they better hope theyre able to sign celades to somewhat solidify the defensive part of the lineup. the attacking part is not bad at all, with the exception of khano of course. that defense really needs some help.

  2. I think the third lineup you presented would work the best, i just hate the idea of smith being in the lineup i don’t no maybe it is just me but i can’t stand the guy on the field.

  3. Another thing to mention is that Osorio has already discussed with Smith having Smith be more offensive and less defensive than he was at NE — which may suit Smith better — but as a result, I don’t see Smith playing in any midfield combination in a 4-3-3.

    In that formation, he’d play the high left forward and the midfield would be either Rojas (a-mid), Hall (linking), Stammler or Pietra (d-mid) or Rojas (a-mid) with Stammler and Pietra (d-mids) in a triangle. Sassano or Mendes could replace either one as d-mids and Ubiparipovic may be ahead of Hall as a linking player.

    Alternatively, if Celades is signed, perhaps Celades partners with Pietravallo as d-mids and Stammler goes to the backline to partner Petke.

  4. I have to agree with gofirego’s first comment. Yeah some of the guys we had last year will possibly play better this year and that will be good, but on the other hand, I wasn’t relying on Khano Smith as a starter and here he is penciled in as a starter where last year we had Van den Bergh. On top of which, Osorio doesn’t appear to be looking at left wings…

    The most troubling part is that the defense hasn’t changed much since last year. Petke comes in and replaces Parke, but that’s practically a wash. Goldthwaite is ok, but not that intimidating in this league. The outside backs both need to be upgraded. Hopefully Pacheco will be good at LB (if we get him), but I’m not holding my breath and RB continues to be a problem (even if we get Carlos Johnson).

    Defense is still a major problem for this team and the central midfield in front them is also just ok. Even a midfield of Rojas as a-mid, Hall as linking player and Stammler as d-mid is just ok. Especially in comparison to these midfield cores:

    Columbus: GBS, Carroll, say Ekpo
    Chicago: Blanco, Thorrington
    Toronto: Guevara, DeRosario, Robinson
    Houston: Holden, Clark, Davis, Mullan
    NE: Ralston, Joseph, Larentowicz
    RSL: Morales, Beckerman

    Excluding last year’s playoff run, NY was a mid-table team with a less than 0.500 performance. The squad assembled, with it’s shortcomings, seems to me only slightly better. Another aspect is that we’re taking guys that were inconsistent starters last year — like Oduro and Smith — and making them starters despite their not having been able to lock down that role on their previous teams.

  5. Khano “ankle hacker” Smith over Jeremy “how does the back of my jersey look as I blow by you” Hall?

    After Khano Smith’s red card suspension in the first game, Hall will show he is much better.

  6. Should have read:

    As Columbus proved last year it is NOT the signing of new players that brings success but rather the cohesion and improvement of the existing team chemistry!

  7. As Columbus proved last year it is the signing of new players that brings success but rather the cohesion and improvement of the existing team chemistry!

  8. How quickly many of you have forgotten how much better Sassano, Ubi and Leitch have gotten… They were one of the main reasons the Bulls made it to the finals in 2008…

    and @gofirego… Did your precious Fire make it to the finals last year? NO! So stop hating on Oso… he worked magic for the Red Bulls last year and will again this year!

  9. I am glad the RB have signed some players long-term, Angel, Richards, etc.

    But the only difference from last year’s team to this years projected line-up is Smith and Petke.

    We are not any better. And with the loss of VDB – we are worse.

    When is this team going to find real talent and upgrade our roster?

  10. Don’t know about Big K’s defending. An offensive scheme that relies on Khano Smith’s crossing ability is doomed to failure.

  11. If we ever see Richards and Smith in a 3-man midfield as part of a 4-3-3 then you will know Osorio has officially lost his mind. That will never happen; it’s tactical suicide.

    More than likely, Rojas, Sassano, Ubi and Pietravallo would all be tried in there, no matter how you line up the three, before Osorio even considers Smith and Richards in that position. Smith was a liability playing in midfield with Joseph and Larentowicz and Parkhurst, Heaps and Albright behind him. Playing him in a 3-man midfield is ridiculous.

    Richards is much the same, though part of it is it is incredibly hard to imagine Osorio using a front three without Richards in one of those spots.

    I’m curious, did you observe anything like this going on in practice? It’s just hard to imagine that.

    Of course, a 4-2-3-1, like Ives said, will probably be the bread and butter for New York this year.

  12. I thought Rojas was played excellent last season .. solid on both sides of the ball. Would love to see a 4-4-2, with Angel and Kandji upfront .. don’t think either track back on turnovers, and we’d benefit by having the extra midfielder. I think one of our defense struggled the most last season, and we should focus on refining that.

  13. It isn’t just from watching him live for a couple years at Gillette that I say that Khano Smith can’t play D.

    Here’s an article from Seattle just last month:

    “During Friday’s 11-on-11 scrimmage at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center, Seattle midfielder Khano Smith couldn’t get the ball away from another player and stumbled to the grass. Shaking his head, he was slow to get up.

    “Get up, K!” Keller shouted from the opposite end of the field. “It’s over! Get up and help your team!”

  14. i like ‘vallo has a guaranteed contract with is a huge hit against the cap and yet he’s been on the bench all throughout the playoffs, and according to your info this up coming season too, in favor of home-grown or dev players…

  15. I think Rojas is a solid player. He struggled in his first season, but I’ve seen him play for the Venezula national team and he is a very good player. I think he’ll surprise a lot of people this year.

    All that aside, it’s hard for me to picture NY doing much this year. Too many teams just look stronger than RB.

  16. A few points:

    Al, I never said the Red Bulls would become a strictly 4-3-3 team, simply that they will use it more this year after using it some last year. As for your definition of an attacking five, teams have used five attackers in the past, but of course you need players who can keep position and track back.

    Do I think the current group is good enough to pull off a 4-3-3? It depends on several factors, such as whether Khano Smith can defend. One reader commented saying “Khano Smith plays zero defense.” Osorio seems to believe that he can get Smith to not only defend well but also cross better.

    Richards does a much better job of getting back defensively than people realize so if Smith can be a two-way winger, then a 4-3-3 could conceivably work with five attack-minded players and one defensive midfielder (though in retrospect, I think a Richards-Mbuta tandem on the right would be better in the first 4-3-3 group than Oduro-Richards.

    Personally I think we’ll see more 4-2-3-1 and 4-4-2 than 4-3-3 or 3-5-2, but I do think we will see them all at varying points.

  17. i still can’t believe this team made it to the final after their horrible late-season performances. barring some transfer activity or much better performances from the likes of Rojas, Pietrovallo, Kandji, etc., i think we will again see the same mediocrity that was there pretty much all of 08 except for one game at Houston.

    They could be worse than last year. The departed Dave VDB was probably the most underappreciated player in MLS in 08. He and Angel were the only consistently good players for Red Bull last year.

    The defense was a shambles for the most part. Will adding Petke really help? I would guess JCO has the same worries, hence the ongoing trial of Albert Celades.

    The signings of MLSers Khano Smith and Dominic Oduro do not impress me. Nor does it seems likely that a solution will emerge from El Salvador. JCO better find some guys more like Conde and less like Cichero, Rojas, Pietrovallo, Wanchope and other JCO busts. His transfer activity has not been impressive.

  18. Agree with Matt, Unless they plan on using the last of your suggestions, they seem to be lacking alot in the center of the field,which would lead to more pressure on our suspect d

  19. They would play with 3 flat across the midfield and then use 2 wingers as well? Seems like that would be giving up too much down the middle. I don’t think I’ve seen a 4-3-3 without the 3 in the midfield all playing as some sort of central midfielders. Can Smith and Richards play in those central roles or am I missing something?

  20. Man we really need some cetnral defenders or its gonna be a long season. Goldie and Boyans are not starting 11 material at that position compared to their peers in MLS.

  21. Well I dont see a grreat crosser in those front 6 lineups, they do look like they can generate some offense.

    I’m more worried about that central defense, and the left back options.

  22. Ives, how good are the front 6 for the Red Bulls in YOUR opinion? Wondering if you feel they are good enough or not…

    (We all agree that they need some defenders).


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