The New York Red Bulls' current road trip is certainly racking up the frequent-flyer miles for the club as they come off a 3-3 draw in Portland and ready themselves for Seattle on Thursday night (10 pm ET, ESPN2).
Then it’s on to Chicago on Sunday for an Eastern Conference clash before returning home for a Tuesday night US Open Cup derby against FC New York. The Red Bulls go into the air a couple days later and fly to San Jose on yet another West Coast trip before coming back to the Tri-State Area.
And while four regular-season away games in a row is tough enough, the challenge of the condensed match schedule — five fixtures in two weeks — can wear on the team. Factor in playing the majority of the matches while missing five regulars due to national team call-ups, add in an injury to Luke Rodgers, and the Red Bulls' mettle is being tested.
But even with the quirks, the Red Bulls are liking their schedule. After Sunday’s match in Portland, the club is staying in the Pacific Northwest and training in the Seattle area. Head coach Hans Backe feels there is enough of a break between matches to rest his players properly.
“I like to play, for example, Sunday-Thursday-Sunday, I like it when it is [that way] for two or three weeks,” Backe said. “I think everyone can adjust to play with that schedule.”
Forward Thierry Henry likened the schedule to his experience with the French national team during the World Cup, and while the grind isn't quite at that level, it is clearly a business first mentality for New York.
“We just want to do what we need to do and hopefully get seven points from these three matches,” midfielder Austin da Luz said after the Portland tie. “[Sunday] was a good start for us and we hope to build on that in Seattle.”
The camaraderie built by such an intense travel schedule is being billed as something good for the team. Down time on the road has a preseason vibe to it, giving the Red Bulls a chance to grow together on and off the pitch.
“I think it could be good for the team to get together and to learn each other well,” Backe added.
The challenge, though, comes after Sunday in Chicago when New York will face a quick turnaround for their Open Cup match. New York will look to use some of their depth to give their starters a bit of a breather.
“It will be mostly reserves,” Backe said. “Ream and Agudelo [could be] in because they haven’t played that much, but mostly reserves. Even if I still feel that it is a priority to play the Open Cup, with this schedule — San Jose away on Saturday — we just need to be smart.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer