HANOVER, N.J. – Severely shorthanded and facing a first-place team in a venue in which they have not won in more than a decade, the New York Red Bulls could not be blamed for playing for a draw this weekend.
Head coach Mike Petke has no intentions of taking that approach.
Petke will lead the Red Bulls into Sunday’s visit against the Eastern Conference-leading New England Revolution (5 pm, MLS LIVE), but the match comes under difficult circumstances for a New York team currently looking to put an end to a four-game winless slide.
First, it will take place at the Red Bulls’ house of horrors, Gillette Stadium, where New York are 0-13-7 since 2002 in league and playoff games, including defeats in three postseason series. Secondly, New York are likely to field a makeshift starting lineup, as five regular starters – Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, Jamison Olave, Dax McCarty and Roy Miller – are expected to miss out due to a combination of factors ranging from international call-ups to injury to the artificial playing surface. Finally, New England are 4-0-1 and have outscored opponents 11-1 in their friendly confines.
So it would be easy for Petke to send his team out to play for a point, but the second-year manager has no desire to do so.
“The day that I’m going into a place saying that, ‘I’m hoping for a draw,’ or something like that, there’s something wrong,” Petke told reporters on Thursday. “Going by traditional MLS, a draw on the road is a good result, no matter how strong you are of a team or no matter how weak you are as far as injuries and stuff. If you ever go out with a draw, it’s a good result, but you always want to do the win. We’re going for the win.”
For New York to pick up three league points prior to the World Cup break, several reserves will have to step up in a big way. Ibrahim Sekagya is one of those players, but he might have to do so as a holding midfielder rather than his customary center-back spot, given the injury absence of midfield anchor McCarty.
Sekagya played defensive midfield and fared well in a similar scenario last year in a road victory over Sporting Kansas City, and the veteran is ready to do so again if that is what Petke feels is best for the Red Bulls’ chances of winning.
“I’ve been playing there for a couple of games everywhere I’ve been,” Sekagya told MLSsoccer.com. “I think it’s not so difficult. I feel comfortable, because you have to sit there like a [center back]. If I get a chance of being there, I feel okay.”
Achieving success in New England on Sunday will not come down to one player for the Red Bulls. Starters like Bradley Wright-Phillips up front and Luis Robles in goal will be counted on to deliver just as much as any of the role players that Petke turns to. If the Red Bulls can earn points in New England, it would make a big statement for the New York and their depth.
“We know we have a good team,” said Sekagya. “Anyone who is missing, we know they are missing because they can’t play – like Titi is an important player in our team, Olave also – but I think the players that are going to play, they have confidence. We just have to keep on going.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.