UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Victor Palsson wasted his first real opportunity to impress the New York Red Bulls in March, getting subbed off in his MLS starting debut at halftime when the Red Bulls fell 2-0 to Real Salt Lake on March 17.
He is determined not to have an outing like that again.
With Teemu Tainio injured and Rafa Márquez potentially facing a suspension, Palsson is one of the players the Red Bulls can pair next to Dax McCarty in central midfield for their upcoming match against rivals D.C. United on Sunday (6 pm ET, ESPN2).
Palsson has not started a game since his subpar showing in the 2-0 defeat at Rio Tinto Stadium in the second week of the season, but he recognizes why that has been the case.
“Obviously at Real Salt Lake I played very poorly so understandable that the manager took me off and put me on the bench,” Palsson told MLSsoccer.com after Wednesday’s practice. “But I’ve been waiting now for my opportunity. Been training well, training hard, doing extra work on those things that I need to improve on so hopefully I’ll get a chance.”
Márquez’s potential suspension, however, does not guarantee Palsson will start. Joel Lindpere is another option after he stated on Tuesday his desire to one day return to his preferred central midfield position, having spent 2011 out on the left.
Mehdi Ballouchy is also a possibility to move in centrally from his left midfield spot, but that looks increasingly unlikely.
“[Ballouchy] has done well in the wide position,” said Red Bulls assistant coach Jan Halvor Halvorsen, who led the team through training for a second straight day as head coach Hans Backe tends to personal matters. “Of course he’s played central midfield before but I think Joel has played there more and Victor is a central midfield player.”
Should the 20-year-old Palsson indeed get the nod at RFK Stadium, he would get his first taste of the rivalry between the Red Bulls and United.
Palsson is aware of the teams’ distaste for one another and he wants to play well if given the opportunity, but he is unsure as to whether he considers Red Bulls-United much of a rivalry given his experience playing in Europe, where rivalries are based on the close proximity of the teams’ locations.
“For me it’s difficult to say because I’m not used to all this traveling,” Palsson said. “I’m not used to flying five hours to play one game. I’m still getting used to it. It’s difficult getting used to it, so you know it takes a while to learn in this league because there’s so many rules, so different from Europe. Give me four or five months.”
Aside from the traveling, Palsson says he already feels fairly comfortable with MLS. But one other area that he is still getting accustomed to is the way in which games are officiated.
According to former Liverpool and Hibernian midfielder, the referees in MLS are stricter than the ones in the English and Scottish Premier Leagues, forcing him to be more watchful of how he plays.
“Here [they] are very different from those I’ve been used to, and the way I play,” Palsson said.. “They give you silly yellow, red cards for stuff you wouldn’t even get a card for in England or Scotland, so that’s something I need to have in my head because I don’t want to get too many cards if I start playing.”
Even as he continues to adjust to his new league, he knows his team’s next game could be a huge opportunity for him, and one he has been working hard for ever since the letdown in Utah last month.
“Every game is a big opportunity and a big game for me because it’s my first season,” he said. “I want to play as much as I can.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.