HANOVER, N.J. – Mike Petke didn't come out and flatly say he'd bring changes across the New York Red Bulls backline, but he surely hinted at it.
The Red Bulls will play their third game in eight days on Saturday when they host the San Jose Earthquakes (7:30 pm ET, MLS Live), and it always seemed likely that this congested stretch of games would force Petke to make some moves to his starting lineup.
The coach lent credence to that idea in a conversation with reporters on Friday, as he answered a question about young center back Matt Miazga’s recent struggles.
Petke stated the club had long since planned which four players would start at the back this weekend – even before New York's disappointing 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday, a setback that highlighted New York’s defensive shortcomings.
“My backline decision for who’s going to play tomorrow night is the only one I’m concrete on and that was decided before the Philly game, let me make that clear,” said Petke. “But we knew when we started putting these young guys in – I knew, certainly, along with the coaching staff – that there was going to come a point that, no matter how they’re doing, we have to pull them out one by one and give them a rest and then reinsert them at some point.
“[Miazga] is 18 years old, Chris Duvall is fresh out of college, [Ambroise] Oyongo is new to this country, he’s a young kid. There is going to be mistakes and we’re willing to accept that and now it’s about managing them. They’re, all three, mentally quite strong.”
Jamison Olave is a lock to get the nod at center back and Oyongo appears to be a safe bet to continue starting at left back against the Earthquakes, given that he has been solid recently and incumbent Roy Miller is still not healthy enough to make his Red Bulls return.
Miazga and Duvall, however, have veteran options behind them. Center backs Armando and Ibrahim Sekagya and right backs Kosuke Kimura and Richard Eckersley have not played much in recent weeks, and they could be summoned in order to get some fresh legs and more leadership into a back line that is missing a true vocal leader.
“There comes a point that we’re going to have pull back the reins a little bit,” said Petke of fielding younger, less-experienced players. “Not all at once, but … you give them a couple of games, they do well, they start hitting a little bit of a peak for the moment and we’ve got to bring them back a little bit.”
- Find the latest RBNY news at NewYorkRedBulls.com
Whether Petke makes one change or several across the back four, the Red Bulls will still need a much better collective defensive showing in order to get back in the win column.
New York’s defenders did have a tough time against the Union at PPL Park, but the midfield also did not do a good job of preventing penetration and that wound up being quite costly.
“The defensive struggles aren’t necessarily just with the back four,” said Petke. “The ball has to get there somehow. The second goal of the Philly game was a midfielder running through. There’s always room to improve, of course.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.