HARRISON, N.J. – New York Red Bulls fans are about to get what they’ve been clamoring so long for.
Set to host rivals D.C. United on Saturday (8 pm ET, NBCSN), the Red Bulls look ready to make a few changes to their starting lineup so as to try and inject some life into an inconsistent offense that has been heavily criticized in recent weeks.
One move that seems all but certain to happen is the insertion of right-sided midfielder Lloyd Sam, who trained with the first team during Friday’s session and afterwards hinted at starting against United.
“It would be the first start at home [this year], so it’s like the biggest opportunity for myself, really,” said Sam. “What can I say? I don’t want to build it up too much. It’s a game of soccer, so I don’t want to put any pressure on myself. Just get out there and do what I can do.”
If Sam indeed gets the nod from head coach Mike Petke, the Englishman will not be the only new player in the Red Bulls’ starting XI. With Roy Miller sidelined with an injury, one of David Carney or Kosuke Kimura will have to fill in at left back, and right now it seems like Carney has the inside track.
“I think Carney is ready to play,” said Petke of the recently-signed Carney. “What I’ve seen all week is he’s a very intelligent soccer player, he has a good touch, he’s willing to play forward, his positioning is very good. One more week acclimating with the team would be phenomenal for him, but he’s more than ready to step in and play tomorrow.”
Other defensive alterations could come at center back and right back. Centrally, Petke is weighing the decision on whether to go with reserve Ibrahim Sekagya or regular starter Jamison Olave, who trained Friday and could play Saturday but is still just days removed from recovering from a quad tear.
Brandon Barklage, meanwhile, observed practice but did not train with the team on Friday after feeling some hip discomfort on Thursday. A decision on whether he plays or not will be made early on Saturday.
“I’m pretty positive he’ll be fine to play, but it would be stupid to have him go through [training],” said Petke. “It was important to have him out here to watch tactically what we’re trying to do. I believe he’s going to see the doctor and get some treatment and we’ll make a determination tomorrow morning.”
Another change could come up top. Thierry Henry trained with the second team a day after he and Petke had an intense verbal confrontation and fellow forward Fabian Espindola played with the reserves as well. That could mean that Bradley Wright-Phillips is in store for his first start as a member of the Red Bulls, though Petke said not to read too much into how New York lined up during Friday’s session.
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.