HARRISON, N.J. – Resting nearly half of their first-choice starters in a 0-0 draw with the Philadelphia Union Sunday at Red Bull Arena, the New York Red Bulls clearly prioritized Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup final against Sporting Kansas City (9 pm ET; ESPN2).
It was a decision that comes with risk as the Red Bulls are by no means locks for the postseason. It was a decision, too, fully understood by Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan, who along with Bradley Wright-Phillips, came on a second-half substitute.
“To be honest there was no message from Jesse. I don’t need him to hold my hand and tell me why I’m not starting this game - the same for Bradley and some of the other guys,” Kljestan said. “We’re all in this together, we all know how important Wednesday is for our team and our club. Without him saying anything it was obvious why we were resting tonight.”
On Wednesday, the Red Bulls will be playing for their third trophy, but they are also in the thick of a playoff push.
With the scoreless draw, the Red Bulls remain in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, just above the playoff line to get into the playoffs. With a win, they could have moved into a tie for fourth place in the conference.
Sporting KC rolled to a 3-1 win on Saturday over the New England Revolution, utilizing nearly their entire first-choice lineup. But the Red Bulls played a day later than Kansas City and will have to travel for the match, two things that clearly factored into the decisions made by Marsch.
“I think it's the right decision,” Marsch said. “Given everything, we want to win the trophy and you don't have a lot of opportunities to play a final; clearly around this club, very few.”
Even more daring was the fact that the Red Bulls have hit a rough patch in recent weeks, winless since a 3-1 victory over Orlando City on Aug. 12. During that stretch of four regular season matches they’ve had a loss and three ties although they did play well in most of those matches.
Still, it wasn’t an issue for the players who were rested.
“No, not at all. Isn’t that what your squad is for? All the players that played today could start on any other day,” said Wright-Phillips, citing positive performances from Veron and Etienne. “We’ve got competition for places, and the guys that started today, they showed just that.”