UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — When the New York Red Bulls open their season on Sunday (3 pm ET; NBC Sports), they will face one of the league’s premier offensive sides in FC Dallas. From Brek Shea to David Ferreira to Blas Pérez, FCD boast a bevy of weapons capable of unlocking any opposing defense.
That is where Red Bulls center back Stephen Keel comes in.
Keel is expected to start at the heart of the Red Bulls’ defense against Dallas, and that is mainly because of an injury to Wilman Conde. Keel, who is no stranger to being used in emergency situations, is relishing the opportunity.
“Individually, I’ve got to keep where I’ve been all my career, helping the team win in any capacity that I can,” Keel told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. “If the team is winning, that is good for myself. Whatever role that is, I’m going to do it the best I can.”
Keel acknowledges FCD have a plethora of talent, but he also knows he was part of a backline that kept that quality attack from scoring on two separate occasions in 2011.
“When we had those two games in the end, one towards the end of the season and one in the playoffs, ultimately, we got results,” said Keel. “Just keep everything nice and organized and tight. They’re very dangerous and if you give them an opportunity, they’ll punish you.”
Keel and the rest of the Red Bulls defense will once again have many players to keep tabs on, but one attacker that Keel will need to be especially wary of is Pérez. The Panamanian striker has a knack for finding the back of the net – and for drawing fouls whenever a defender is in the vicinity – and he will undoubtedly look to start his MLS tenure with a goal.
“For me, it’s about being switched on for the entire 90 minutes, always making sure where he is and his runs,” Keel said. “Good communication from the back to help limit his chances and keep an eye on him for sure.”
Keel will likely line up alongside fellow the other starting center back, Markus Holgersson. The two have not had much time to gel since the Swedish defender arrived in mid-January. But Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe believes Keel’s industrious style of play will naturally combine well with Holgersson’s experience.
“You always know what you get from Stephen,” said Backe. “He’s a solid, hardworking center back. Last year he helped us a lot when we had injuries and problems and it will be the same this year, even competing for the starting position for every game.”
Help quiet Pérez and the rest of FC Dallas’ potent offense, and Keel might be one step closer to convincing Backe he is ready for a permanent starting role.
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com.
GET TICKETS to FC Dallas vs. New York Red Bulls, Sunday, March 11, 2012, 3 pm ET at FC Dallas Stadium. Watch it on NBC Sports.