UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Facing an expansion team on Sunday afternoon poses its own set of problems for New York, who take on a Portland team very much still forging its own identity.
Players on an expansion team are continuing to gel and the side often plays with great emotion in their first season. There isn’t as much to see on film when scouting a team in its first year, as the chemistry just isn’t there yet and the unpredictability is high.
But one thing that is not an unknown in the Red Bulls’ trip to Portland on Sunday night (10 pm ET, Galavisión), though, is the ferocity of the Timbers’ home crowd, who have turned JELD-WEN Field into a true advantage for John Spencer’s men.
“The crowd is amazing over there,” said Red Bulls forward Thierry Henry.
Though being in their first year in MLS, Timbers Army is building quite an impressive resume of colorful pageantry and loud, stadium-echoing chants. The atmosphere has been brilliant at times, creating plenty of spark for the home team to feed off of.
Midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy watched a recent Timbers home match and was as impressed as Henry with the level of the support.
“It looked like it [was great],” Ballouchy said. “I saw the Colorado–Portland game. It was unbelievable.”
But rather than be intimidated by the atmosphere at JELD-WEN, Red Bulls players are looking forward to a packed house their first trip to Portland. In fact, they believe they’ll feed off the intensity of the crowd.
“I think it’s going to be a good game,” New York midfielder Joel Lindpere said. “I hope they’re going to be a full crowd.”
The Red Bulls will not return home until June 28, when they play their first US Open Cup match this season.
New York’s road trip takes them to Portland on Sunday, Seattle on Thursday, and then to Toyota Park to play Chicago that next Sunday. The jaunt is the longest of the season for the Red Bulls.
Under head coach Hans Backe, New York have never made a trip like this. Henry likened the West Coast swing and then travelling to Chicago to his national team experience in the World Cup.
“It’s actually better to stay there for a while,” Henry said. “What kills you is to stay there for a [single] game.”
As part of the road trip, the Red Bulls will obviously have training sessions. However, they still need to manage down time. Backe said that the club is planning team trips to visit cultural marks in the three cities, places such as museums and historical points of interest.
“We can find out things to do in the afternoon,” Backe said. “There will be some down time you need to kill.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer