UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – New York Red Bulls fans may have been in need of good news this week after learning of Lloyd Sam's season-ending injury, and they got just that on Thursday.
Defender Wilman Conde returned to Red Bulls practice on Thursday morning after being away from the team for approximately two weeks due to personal reasons. Conde, whose last game was against the Chicago Fire on Oct. 6, took full part in the session, even playing in a three-quarter-field scrimmage at the end of it.
“I’m very happy to be back with the team and to return knowing that we’ve secured a playoff spot,” Conde told MLSsoccer.com. “Now it’s about focusing on the playoffs.”
Before New York can turn all of their attention to the postseason, they must first try and knock off rivals Philadelphia Union at PPL Park on Saturday. A victory there is the only way the Red Bulls can give themselves a chance of earning a Knockout Round bye, but head coach Hans Backe told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday that Conde will not dress for the game against the Union due to his lack of fitness.
“I’ve been training [while away] but obviously training alone is not the same intensity-wise as training with a team,” said Conde. “With another week of training and being with the team, I think I’ll be ready to lend a helping hand if the coaching staff asks me to.”
Just what Conde’s role with the team will be during the stretch run is unknown. Normally a center back, Conde had won the starting left back spot in the weeks before his absence, but the recent insertion of Rafa Márquez in central defense has pushed regular starter Heath Pearce out on the left.
That leaves Conde in the situation of again having to try to break into the Red Bulls’ starting lineup, something he sees as no problem.
“I came here to work hard and I’ll fight for my spot like I’ve always done,” said Conde.
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.