On the heels of last year’s disappointing exit from the CONCACAF Champions League in the quarterfinal round, the New York Red Bulls will be hoping a year later to take those lessons learned and transfer it onto the field.
Last February, the Red Bulls drew 1-1 at home and then lost 2-0 on the road to the Vancouver Whitecaps, knocking them out of the competition in what was admittedly embarrassing fashion. Now in this revised format the Red Bulls will first face Honduran side CD Olimpia in the Round of 16 of the tournament on Thursday (10 pm ET; UnivisionDeportes.com) and will lean on last year’s experience as well as a tough preseason to hopefully get them over the hump.
On a Wednesday conference call, Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said “it won’t be perfect, it won’t be easy” but he’s confident in his team’s preparation. It is a special challenge given that the Red Bulls have yet to start their season and Olimpia is well into their campaign.
The Honduran side has yet to lose in nine league matches and sit second in the Honduran Clausura table. The Red Bulls have endured an up and down preseason where they have understandably shown some rust.
“I feel like we’re ahead of schedule from last year. Guys came in fitter, I think guys understood more from the experience exactly what the time crunch was,” Marsch said on the call.
“They also understood the urgency that we needed to bring in everything we did every day. It’s never easy when you throw a lot of elements into a short time frame. I’m proud of our group and the way they have committed us and I feel like as much as we can, we are prepared.
“Clearly from a fitness and sharpness standpoint, Olimpia will be ahead of us. They have nine games under their belt with having their season early on.”
On Wednesday night, the Red Bulls will train on the pitch at the National Stadium in San Jose, Costa Rica. The match was moved due to sanctions against Olimpia stemming from political unrest in the country.
As an extension of those security concerns, the Red Bulls did not send anyone from their technical staff to scout Olimpia in person, with Marsch noting however that they nonetheless did extensive film work on their opponent.
“We’ve gotten to know them pretty well. They’re well coached, they’re a combative team, a good team, a talented team,” Marsch said. “We know we’re in for a big challenge, even despite the fact they’re not playing in their home environment which obviously would make them even more difficult – we still know we’re in for a really difficult match. Anytime you come down to Central America you know you’re going to be dealing with a lot of elements working against you.”
The team traveled to Houston last week to train, hoping to cut back on the overall travel for first leg.
Marsch sounded optimistic, having nearly a full squad at his disposal for the match. Recently signed Argentine winger Alejandro "Kaku" Romero Gamarra did travel with the team to train in Houston, but did not make the jaunt down to Costa Rica. Gamarra is now back with the New York Red Bulls II in Arizona and the team hopes the player will get a match in with the USL squad to help regain sharpness and fitness.
But the real focus is on Thursday night in Costa Rica and the opportunity to redeem themselves after an early exit in the Champions League. The scenario will be unusual as the match will be behind closed doors and not in Olimpia’s stadium.
It all sets up for a match where the Red Bulls hope to head into the second leg at Red Bull Arena with momentum.
“You can’t win the series in any one moment but you can lose it,” Marsch said.