By RYAN TOLMICH
By all accounts, the New York Red Bulls’ draw with El Salvador’s CD FAS was a major disappointment.
With a spot in the CONCACAF Champions League officially gone, Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke is already working to move past the midweek frustration that comes from a draw that really felt like a loss.
“I already have amnesia, for the most part,” Petke said on a conference call Friday. “There’s always that lingering in the back of your mind, but we have a game Sunday, so we have to look at that right there. Players were sad, were upset, after the game because they did enough to win.
“We had a penalty kick, a header in the 6-yard box towards the end, we had a breakaway,” Petke continued. “There’s no second-guessing. It was very similar to the first one, but in the first game, we could have scored 12 goals and we only scored two. This game, we could have scored three or four goals, and didn’t score any.”
Wednesday’s elimination became all the more controversial due to the absence of stars Thierry Henry, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Tim Cahill, who Petke insists are ready to go this weekend after missing the CCL clash with injuries.
“We had Thierry, Tim and Bradley who were all nursing something, who did not travel,” Petke said. “Tim had an MRI done, Bradley, obviously, is returning from his (hamstring) injury and Thierry was hurt in the previous game (a 4-1 victory over the Seattle Sounders).”
While the Red Bulls’ attacking trio is expected to feature in this weekend’s clash with the LA Galaxy, Petke received a scare during the match with FAS as starters Lloyd Sam and Ambroise Oyongo each picked up injuries.
“I think Lloyd’s going to be OK,” Petke said. “He had a little something beforehand, but he wanted to go…That’s one of the difficult things about this competition: balancing who plays and who doesn’t.
“You want to put out a strong team, but you have other things to worry about as well. Situations like (Sam’s) could come back and haunt you. We had another player, Oyongo, struggle in that game and I don’t know what his status is.”
The Red Bulls will need all hands on deck yet again this weekend, as the team faces a trip to Los Angeles to take on the surging Galaxy, who are unbeaten in their last eight games.
Sitting in the middle of the logjam that is the Eastern Conference playoff race, every point is of the utmost importance for the Red Bulls.
“We’ve gotten 10 out of 12 points in the last four games, and that was huge for us, because going into this game right here, we know it’s going to be a battle,” Petke said. “If this game is early in the season, it would be a road mentality to get out of there with a point, but obviously with the situation that we’re in, we want to get out of there with a full three points, but it should be a big task.
“We chose to rest starters for the Montreal game and that paid dividends against Seattle. We didn’t do that this past game, but we rested enough of the starters and we’re hoping that pays dividends as well. We just hope (Sam, Oyongo, Henry, Cahill, Wright-Phillips), recover and get back. It will be a very tough game. They have quality all over.”
With the CCL in the past and the Galaxy in the present, Petke is still keeping an eye toward the future, as the Red Bulls coach has his gaze fixed on the playoffs.
“It’s very important. Extremely important. It’s the main focus on my mind,” Petke said of the postseason. “This is what we play for. This is our job. It’s not the player’s job to go out every week and kick the ball around. The player’s job is to win games, get to the playoffs and ultimately, win the MLS Cup. It’s the most important.”
What do you think of Petke’s assessment of the CCL elimination? Do you see the Red Bulls making the playoffs? If so, how far can they go?
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