By DAVE MARTINEZ
Two messages have stayed consistent since the Red Bulls began their quest to compete in the 2012 U.S. Open Cup. First and foremost, they are in it to win it. Second, coach Hans Backe is not happy with the tournament structure set out by U.S. Soccer.
Disappointed by the U.S. Open Cup schedule release, Backe fired his latest salvo at the tournament as his team readies itself for tonight’s fourth-round match against the Harrisburg City Islanders.
“If we win tomorrow, we will have to play the third game on the road, which makes me a little bit frustrated when I look at other teams getting three home games in a row,” Backe noted.
The Red Bulls, who tried to buy out the home-field advantage for this match but fell short in their attempt, will either play at D.C. United or at the Philadelphia Union in the quarterfinal round, should they get by the Islanders.
“I would like to see who makes the draw," Backe said, echoing some of the sentiments put forth by Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid. "In every other country in the world you do it on tele. No one knows what is going on here, so I’m a little bit pissed with that, I must say.”
Compounding on his disappointment is the litany of absences the Red Bulls will have to overcome for the match. Thierry Henry will once again be out as he nurses his hamstring back to full health. Teemu Tainio continues to battle a career-threatening ACL injury. Tyler Ruthven was served a suspension for a red card picked up during his last match in U.S. Open Cup competition as a member of the Islanders (suspensions carry over tournament to tournament).
“I had no idea,” a frustrated Ruthven said. “The fact that I didn’t play (against Charleston) and that I’m suspended again is beyond frustrating.”
In addition to that, five Red Bulls are absent due to international duty: Rafa Marquez, Roy Miller, Joel Lindpere, Dane Richards and Victor Palsson.
“It’s quite difficult when you play FIFA games the same time you play the Open Cup,” Backe said. "We are very shorthanded. We have 13 outfield players. That’s the whole roster that is left: Only three subs. But that’s all the guys in."
Still, even with the roster adversity, Backe remains true to his other consistent message.
“It’s a high priority," Backe said. "Like we said in the beginning of the year, we should make a run for the Cup.”
Not all is terrible about the team’s road to the U.S. Open Cup this year. According to Backe, the one thing that has gone the team’s way is a more favorable MLS fixture.
“It’s a better schedule; a much, much better schedule,” Backe noted. “When you do not have the travel to the West Coast, it makes everything so much easier.”
Part of the coach’s issue with the FIFA date scheduling this year is that he did not anticipate the wrinkle in his club’s calendar.
“I thought in the beginning we would not play the Cup during FIFA dates, but we do,” Backe said.
When asked if fan outcry pushed his decision to take the Cup more “serious” this year, he simply noted that it was “More about the travel and the schedule, that is it.”
TAINIO’S CONDITION WORSENS
Every update on Tainio’s health seems to become more dire each week. The Finnish midfielder is desperately battling a career-threatening ACL injury, and his prognosis continues to worsen.
“I wouldn’t be surprised (if he had a career-ending injury),” Backe noted.
In an attempt to salvage his playing career, the Red Bulls are experimenting with different healing methods to save his knee from further damage.
“That’s why we also took the decision not to have the surgery and have some of this new stuff with injections, trying to heal the ACL,” Backe said
Even if those methods work, his road towards a return is still a distant goal.
“We are still talking six weeks just to get an answer if it will work,” Backe said. “Then also get in shape after being out 2-3 months but I think it’s the right decision. With the surgery, it would probably be a career-ender.”