HANOVER, N.J. – New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch has seen his first-choice backline play together for a mere 76 minutes this season. Come Friday, he may just be able to add to that total.
Center back Ronald Zubar and left back Roy Miller returned to first-team training Tuesday for the first time in weeks. As they inch closer to a complete recovery, Marsch could face some tough decisions with the team gearing up for a three-game home stand at Red Bull Arena starting Friday against the San Jose Earthquakes (7 pm ET; UniMas).
“We’re hopeful that they’re available for Friday,” Marsch said. “We’ll see. Today was a big step in the right direction, and we thought it would be. We’re on pace for them being available. Hopefully there will be a decision on whether to use them from the start or use them off the bench.”
Youngsters Matt Miazga and Kemar Lawrence have stepped in for Zubar and Miller, respectively. Still undefeated four games into the season, New York have conceded four goals over their first four games en route to earning eight of a possible 12 points, with both replacements making a case to maintain their roles in the starting XI. Yet for Marsch, deference to experience may be in order.
“Roy and Ronald are both established guys who have earned the right to be treated as starters,” Marsch stated. “I think that Matt and Kemar have filled in very well. It’ll come down to decisions. We haven’t even really started the discussion yet because we’re just focused on getting them both available, but I know that both Ronald and Roy will play big roles.”
A veteran with experience in Europe’s top leagues, Zubar expressed some frustration with his early injury woes but has been pleased with the results that the team's defense has produced in his absence.
“It’s always tough when you’re outside [the team],” he said. “You’re watching your teammates training or playing and you always want to be involved in that.
“[Marsch] just wants to make sure that I come back at 100 percent to be part of the squad. Right now, the guys have been doing a good job. Damien [Perrinelle] and Matt have been really strong since the beginning of the season. I just have to make sure that when I come back that I compete to get back in the lineup.”
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With Zubar and Miller returning to action, both fill-ins are aware that their minutes on the pitch may take a hit but remain focused on the matters over which they have control.
“My focus is just on playing, even if Roy is back,” said Lawrence, a 22-year-old Jamaican international in his first season wit the Red Bulls. “I’m just trying to be the right player at the right time. Whenever the coach needs me to be out there, I’m going to always be prepared.”
Miazga, the 19-year-old Homegrown in his third year with the team, has played down questions over his place in the lineup, placing confidence in the system that Marsch has put into place.
“We’ll see when [Marsch] announces the lineups the day before the game,” Miazga told MLSsoccer.com. “But right now we’re just training hard.
“In preseason, every center back paired up with different center backs. I think we’re all comfortable with each other and when someone gets called upon, everyone knows their job.”
As the competition ramps up in training, the positional battles will force Marsch into some difficult decisions. For Lawrence, a player that Marsch categorized as “fearless” and “confident,” there’s no backing down.
“I love playing,” Lawrence added. “I’m going to be competitive all around. If coach needs me to sit out a game, he needs me to [do] that. I’ll just be humble and be ready to go whenever he needs me again. It’s good to have a lot of competition. This is a big squad full of competition. I’ll definitely be pushing, knocking on the door so that whenever coach asks me to play, I’ll be ready.”