Last year, New York Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe created a stir when he placed a greater goal on his team winning the Supporters' Shield than the MLS Cup. This year, Backe won’t be causing any debates with his expectations.
Instead, he just wants to win it all, and he’s building his team to do just that.
“I say we should go for it all: the Open Cup, the Shield, the MLS Cup,” Backe told reporters in a conference call on Thursday from Mexico, where the Red Bulls are training. “We have a very good squad this year.”
Last year, after a strong start to the season, Backe amended his league-centric focus by summertime after injuries and international call-ups decimated his starting XI. The Red Bulls recovered by September and enjoyed a solid close to the regular season and won their MLS Cup Playoffs wild card match against FC Dallas. Now in his third MLS campaign, Backe understands that the travel coupled with call-ups, injuries and a long regular season can undercut a team without adequate depth.
New York's depth will be bolstered by the signing of Icelandic U-21 Victor Pálsson, who has impressed while in Mexico and was officially signed on Friday. The midfielder will provide cover and depth for Teemu Tainio, the former Finnish international who struggled with injuries in 2011.
“[He’s] a hard-working guy, Icelandic guy with a good knowledge of the game being outside Iceland since he was 15 [years old] with Liverpool and Hibernian," Backe said. "Knows the game very well. Almost close to Teemu the way he plays; a little bit taller and very good in the air."
In addition to their new central midfielder, the Red Bulls have been looking to breed competition all over the field, including trading for forward Kenny Cooper, and they currently have five trialists in camp. That kind of depth was lacking last year – at times Backe fielded a short bench in 2011 – and it largely kept the Red Bulls from being able to withstand the pitfalls of the regular season. The lack of adequate and healtyh reinforcements even prompted them to play mainly reserves in the US Open Cup.
“We will have much better depth, there’s no question about it," Backe said. "We will have at least 18 to 20 players, good footballers. Also, now with the new schedule this season, not playing that many games during FIFA dates, we can definitely have a priority with the Open Cup.”
Backe is keen to bring the entire group, including trialists, with him to the next phase of training in Arizona. Among the impressive names trying to find a spot on the team are former academy player Jose Angulo, former FC New York striker Jhonny Arteaga, RBNY's first-ever Home Grown signing Giorgi Chirgadze, former Providence player Ryan Maduro and former D.C. United defender Brandon Barklage.
“All the trialists... have impressed me, they’ve done very well,” Backe said. “I’ve asked them to join us for the Arizona camp, the second one. They seemed to be happy with that. Then we will see with our salary cap if we can sign them all or if we need to pick some of them.”