Wilman Conde has been working to regain full fitness in time for the New York Red Bulls’ season opener against FC Dallas, and he got one step closer to accomplishing that goal this past weekend.
In his first stint of preseason action, the Colombian center back started and played 35 minutes of the Red Bulls’ 2-0 defeat to New England Revolution in their second game of the Desert Diamond Cup in Tucson, Ariz. The cameo may not have indicated that Conde is back to his old, dominating self, but it was a sign of progress.
“I had the opportunity to play for a little bit [and] I felt good,” Conde told MLSsoccer.com after the game. “With more games I’m going to gain that [fitness] back. For me, it’s very important that I get as many minutes as possible before the season starts.”
Conde knows the Red Bulls are planning to rely on him heavily during the upcoming MLS campaign and he stated he feels more motivation than pressure to win a starting role alongside Stephen Keel or Markus Holgersson. He also said that by doing that, the Red Bulls will be able to move one of their top players out of defense.
“I think it is important that Rafa [Márquez] plays in the midfield, because he is a very intelligent player who can dictate the tempo of games,” Conde said. “It’s very important to have him there, but that is up to the coaching staff and Rafa himself on where he feels he fits best. We’ll see what they decide.”
Something else that will need to be decided in the near future is when Conde will be ready to make a full return.
“It’s looking good and he’s working very, very hard and we believe we will have him fit before the league starts,” general manager Erik Solér told reporters recently. “That will be very important moment for us, of course, with him being the direct replacement for Tim Ream.”
However, head coach Hans Backe does not share the same optimism about Conde’s availability for the season opener at FC Dallas Stadium on March 11.
“I hope, But we have to be smart because if we rush it now and something happens with his ankle then we lose him for months,” Backe said. "I’m not going to rush it.”
Whether he is fit in time for the curtain raiser against FCD or not, Conde plans on using the remainder of the preseason as a vehicle for him to return to full health.
“The preseason is just for that,” Conde said. ”To work hard, to make corrections, to judge where we’re at.”
The Red Bulls take on the LA Galaxy in their final preliminary match at the Desert Diamond Cup (10 pm ET, MLSsoccer.com Channel 1).
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com.