SARASOTA, Fla. – If things pan out the way the New York Red Bulls believe they will, Jámison Olave will bring an element to their defense that was missing last year.
After a season in which the Red Bulls surrendered 46 goals, new head coach Mike Petke is counting on Olave – who arrived via trade with Real Salt Lake – to help shore up the leaky backline with his strength, physicality and willingness to use both.
“I think that was lacking severely last year, as far as our bite as a defender,” Petke told MLSsoccer.com. “To me, if you’re a defender in a flat back four and you’re not touching, bumping with people, then there’s something wrong.
“I think we had times last year we were aggressive but there were a lot of times when we were casual and cute on the ball. I think you need someone who’s going to be the enforcer, the cleaner, in a way, who also has ability with the ball at his feet. That to me is Olave.”
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The hulking 6-foot-3, 210-pound center back was slowed by a slew of injuries last season, and to prepare for the upcoming campaign Olave switched up his offseason ritual of going to his native Colombia. Instead, he stayed with Real Salt Lake in Utah, going to the gym almost every day to strengthen all the parts of his body that bothered him in 2012.
“I tried to strengthen it all so I could be healthy for this year because without question my worst season in this league was last year,” Olave told MLSsoccer.com. “I do not want to repeat the same thing this year due to injuries. “
Olave may be looking to avoid a repeat of last year, and so too are the Red Bulls. New York again fell short of meeting their lofty expectations in 2012, and part of the reason for that was their shoddy defending.
Having been with his new teammates for three weeks now, Olave has already seen that the Red Bulls have talent to be a top defensive team but also knows that developing chemistry will go a long way in determining how well they fare in 2013.
“We have to familiarize ourselves with one another and work hard because sometimes you can make mistakes that will cost you goals [due to unfamiliarity],” said Olave. “The more familiar we are with each other, the more concentrated we are, that will make it easier for all of us.”
Should Olave avoid the injuries that plagued him last season, the Red Bulls will have an imposing figure lining up in the heart of their defense, one that will add a dimension while also bringing a wealth of experience.
“Olave has proven himself in this league to not only be an MLS Cup champion, Defender of the Year, Best XI [player], but somebody who is willing to put his mark on the game and that’s not easy for a defender,” said Petke. “I think having him around in that role is only going to raise other guys in their aggressiveness.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com