NEW YORK – The New York Red Bulls might be close to full health, but they still may not field their strongest starting lineup in the season opener this weekend.
Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke said Tuesday during his club’s Media Day at Stage 48 in Manhattan that a number of factors will play into who he selects for Saturday’s road game vs. the Vancouver Whitecaps (7:30 pm ET, TSN in Canada, MLS Live in US), including the FIFA fixture date that just passed and the artificial-turf field at BC Place.
"We have two key players who are away with the national team for a Wednesday game, so obviously that comes into factor,” Petke told the assembled media. “There are certain players that perhaps physically, [it] wouldn’t be the best situation to play them this game coming up.
“I have a pretty good idea [of my starting lineup]. There’s still a couple ifs, ands or buts about it, but we started preparing six weeks ago and we really started preparing for the first two games of the season – first one being away, second being home – so I like where we are right now at this point.”
Petke may not have mentioned anyone by name specifically, but the two players of his that were called up for international duty this week are midfield ace Tim Cahill and left back Roy Miller. Cahill and Miller both started for their respective countries in friendlies on Wednesday (Cahill scored twice for Australia in a 4-3 defeat to Ecuador) and the long flight back to join the club could prevent them from starting against the Whitecaps.
Then there's star striker Thierry Henry and defensive anchor Jámison Olave. The two starters were regularly held out of matches played on turf surfaces last season as a way to avoid reinjuring chronic issues. Henry and Olave did, however, play in last year’s season opener on the turf at Providence Park in Portland.
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Henry wouldn't answer questions on if he would play this weekend, saying only to ask Petke about the looming lineup decision facing the second-year coach.
Petke didn't reveal his decision either, but sounded confident in his team's ability to compete with or without some of his top players.
“As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t matter if there’s one or two positions we’re not sure of, if we go a certain way or not,” said Petke. “[The players are] all on board and they all understand what we want out of this game coming up Saturday.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.