Dax McCarty may still be fighting to regain his full fitness, but there is a chance he could return to the New York Red Bulls starting lineup this weekend.
That was the message from Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke on Tuesday as he spoke to reporters on a conference call ahead of his club’s tilt with defending champions LA Galaxy.
Petke said McCarty, who recently recovered from a slight tear in his right quad, was involved in all of practice on Tuesday and that how the midfielder’s body responds to training this week will determine how he is used against the Western Conference heavyweights at Red Bull Arena on Sunday.
“I’m pretty sure he will be in the 18,” said Petke. “Whether he’s going to play is going to be determined by this week and how he feels, how he looks, if he feels like he is game-ready, if we feel like he’s game ready for 90 [minutes].
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“The last I want to do, and I’ve only had to do it pretty much once, maybe twice, this year, is go and start that a player that we’re certain of not playing 90 minutes. If that’s the case, I’d rather bring him off the bench because I need players that can play 90 in case things happen.”
If McCarty responds well to training this week, Petke will be left to make a big lineup decision. The Eastern Conference-leading Red Bulls have found success in recent weeks by deploying a 4-4-2 formation, but that setup is designed to field only two central midfielders.
With McCarty, Juninho and Designated Player Tim Cahill all natural center mids, Petke will inevitably be forced to either bench one of them or find a way to field the trio without reverting back to the 4-3-3 formation that did not produce results at the start of the year.
“I don’t think I’ll ever change a formation because of a player,” said Petke. “It’s always an interesting dilemma to have: three guys you want on the field, three guys who are natural central players. Tim has proven throughout this year specifically that he’s very versatile and can perform very oftenly in a number of positions.
“At the end of the day, it can either be about getting my best players on the field or it could be about a rotation. That’s something that, when Dax is fully fit, Juninho and Tim are fully fit, that we will again, like we did earlier in the season, figure that out and we'll try to get the best lineup that we can. That's the end goal, obviously”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.