HARRISON, N.J. – What started off as one of the many question marks surrounding the New York Red Bulls has suddenly turned into arguably their greatest strength.
In Sunday’s 2-0 triumph over D.C. United, much of the attention was focused on the stellar play of striker Bradley Wright-Phillips. And rightly so. Yet somewhat lost in the shuffle has been the emergence of a formidable force in the heart of the New York midfield.
Make that forces.
Offseason arrivals Sacha Kljestan and Felipe – the two biggest additions of the Ali Curtis and Jesse Marsch era – have bolstered the Red Bulls in the center of the park. Coupled with midfield mainstay Dax McCarty, the trio has already enjoyed a fair deal of success in this young campaign.
“Our relationship in the midfield is starting to blossom a bit and we’re starting to get those connections down a little bit more,” McCarty said. “Me and Felipe, we need to look for each other. We’re going to try to win the midfield every game this season. If we find each other I think we’re going to find chances for the guys up front.”
It’s no secret that a strong central midfield presence is vital for any team with championship aspirations. But with the departures of Tim Cahill and Eric Alexander along with the uncertain future of Peguy Luyindula, there was some concern as to how the club would replace the outgoing talent in such a crucial area of the field. Consider those concerns alleviated.
“Felipe’s a great player,” McCarty added. “Jesse knew what he was doing when he traded for him. He’s a guy that always wants the ball. I love that about him. I love that about a lot of our players, especially him and Sacha.”
For Marsch, early returns have validated the acquisitions of Felipe and Kljestan, both of whom he advocated for strongly. Parting ways with Alexander and promising youngster Ambroise Oyongo may have had fans crying foul earlier in the offseason, but the Red Bulls head coach has been pleased with how his roster moves have panned out.
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“I went out to get Felipe and Sacha because I knew how good they are, what kind of men, and what kind of competitors they are,” Marsch stated. “I knew that they would make us very good in the center of the field and help [to] make us a very good team.”
While the season is still young, the Red Bulls boss has enjoyed the combination play from what he considers to be “the heart of our team.” With a challenging fixture in Columbus coming up on Saturday, Marsch will once again look towards that heartbeat to push New York forward.
“They really enjoy playing with each other,” Marsch said. “They’re all gifted soccer-wise. They see the game clearly; they think fast [and] they’re intelligent both with and without the ball. We’ve put high demands on the expectations from how they play and what they do on the field and they’ve met those expectations and are ready to run with it.”