HARRISON, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls will start their CONCACAF Champions League campaign on Tuesday night and, through no fault of their own, are already behind the eight ball.
The Red Bulls are entering their tournament opener against CD FAS (8 pm ET; Fox Sports 2, UDN) six points behind Group 3 leaders Montreal Impact, who have already swept the El Salvador outfit to collect six points through two matches. That scenario does not leave New York in must-win territory, but there is a sense that the club needs to defeat and eliminate CD FAS at Red Bull Arena in order to avoid having to play catch-up to Montreal.
It is expected Mike Petke will field an experimental team full of seldom-used reserves and youth players, but the second-year head coach – who is getting his first taste of the continental tournament – told MLSsoccer.com on Monday that he plans to field a seasoned lineup.
Not because there’s pressure, but because the Red Bulls are taking this tournament seriously.
“We understand what’s going on,” Petke told MLSsoccer.com. “Montreal got out to two quick starts. … We know that we need to go out and we need to win tomorrow. I’m putting out what I consider to be a very experienced squad, and we’re looking to win this game. We’re looking to go out and win it early and get out of there injury free and three points in hand in the group.”
It seems unlikely that stars like Thierry Henry or Jamison Olave will start given their age and minutes logged this season, but veterans like Peguy Luyindula, Eric Alexander and Saer Sene appear to be prime candidates to start alongside Ambroise Oyongo and other talented youngsters.
Petke would not disclose his starting XI but informed MLSsoccer.com that Ryan Meara would start in goal and that veterans Kosuke Kimura and Bobby Convey would not be in uniform. Kimura is suffering from a hamstring injury sustained in a recent reserve game, and Convey continues to be absent from training with an undisclosed ailment.
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Regardless of who is or isn’t available, the Red Bulls are expecting a tough battle from a desperate CD FAS team flirting with elimination. The match could very well be an open one given FAS’s need for three points, and that’s something that might play right into the Red Bulls’ plans of starting Champions League play with a win.
“Even if it’s a friendly game, we hate to lose,” Sene told MLSsoccer.com. “We have to win every game, even if it’s the MLS or CONCACAF. We go in the game to win the game. … We just have to win the game and we take the game one after the other one and see where we stand after that.“
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.