It will be a far more defensive posture on Sunday afternoon from the New York Red Bulls, who will replace the suspended Jan Gunnar Solli with longtime stalwart Carlos Mendes in their Western Conference Semifinal opener against the LA Galaxy (3 pm ET, ESPN2/ESPN Deportes, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
“It has to be Mendes [as] that’s the option we have playing at right fullback,” New York head coach Hans Backe told reporters in a conference call on Friday. “It will be probably be a better defense as Jan is more of an attacking player, Carlos is more of a holding right fullback. So we will be different and we will have probably not the same attacking game from Carlos Mendes.”
That becomes the concern for New York, as Backe instructs his team to push forward from the back and apply a very high line of pressure. Mendes has traditionally played at center back during his MLS career and is more comfortable as a “stay-at-home” defender. In replacing Solli, he is taking over for a player who likes to push up and down the flanks.
In his first year with the club, Solli quickly entrenched himself in the position, earning 31 starts. But the red card he earned in the 80th minute of New York’s wild card win at FC Dallas on Wednesday means he will have to sit out Sunday’s first leg against LA, leaving a void at the position.
With Mendes, the Red Bulls are slotting in a proven and versatile defender who has played every position along the backline, plus time at defensive midfielder. Now in his seventh year with New York, he is the longest-tenured Red Bulls player on the roster.
A converted central midfielder, Solli has been integral to the Red Bulls attack, serving in quality crosses from the right wing and constantly pushing forward, much like left back Roy Miller. Backe is confident Mendes can still be an attacking spark, even if it isn’t perhaps as dynamic as Solli when he pushes forward.
“Carlos is good enough to perhaps not go for overlaps for 90 minutes, but definitely he’s a right fullback that can give support to the wide player in the attacking game,” Backe said. “I don’t think it will be like Roy has to do more in the attacking game; I still think we will be quite well balanced in the attack.”