Lloyd Sam only heard Thierry Henry shout as the New York Red Bulls captain made a darting run forward into space late in the first half of Wednesday night's preseason friendly against the Philadelphia Union. Sam didn't know where Henry was on the field, but he played a pass to where it sounded like his teammate would be.
The result? A goal that illustrated to a T the benefit of the Red Bulls’ continuity heading into the 2014 season.
While a good portion of the Eastern Conference has spent the offseason retooling, the Red Bulls have remained mostly quiet, addressing areas they felt needed improvement, but doing so without making the type of noise or splashing the type of cash normally associated with the club.
The fine-tuning approach has been by design. The club’s brass wanted to keep most of the core from last season’s Supporters’ Shield-winning team intact as the Red Bulls attempt to trump their 2013 successes this year. In Wednesday's first half at Jacksonville’s EverBank Field, that looked like a smart strategy, as New York’s starters dominated a Philadelphia Union group hoping to develop that type of chemistry after revamping their midfield this offseason.
“Everyone knows each other, and you could see that we’re playing well and the passing is good,” said Sam, who scored the opener before setting up Henry’s goal in the Red Bulls’ 2-1 victory. “It was nice to come back and see familiar faces this year, so everyone has appreciated that. We made a couple of additions that look good, too. It’s a much better way to do things when you know everyone.”
Results in preseason are to be taken with a grain of salt, but the Red Bulls looked far more in-form than Philadelphia on Wednesday night, moving the ball quickly and sharply. With both teams deploying many of their projected starters, New York pinned Philadelphia in their own end for much of the first half with long spells of possession and quick combination play.
The Red Bulls didn't appear to be a team gearing up for the new season. Rather, they looked like a side continuing where it left off.
“In the offensive third, we combined a bit of counterattacking with some good possession and good build-up play,” said Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke. “I was happy.”
Predictably, Petke remained on an even keel in his positive review of the Red Bulls’ first half, which was followed by a scoreless second stanza that mostly featured reserves and players looking to earn a roster spot. Instead, Petke simply labeled the opening 45 minutes as progress.
“You want to see small improvements, and we’ve seen a small improvement today from the previous game [a 2-0 loss to University of South Florida] and the previous two weeks,” said Petke. “It’s a positive step.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.