HARRISON, N.J. – Rest vs. rust. It’s the conundrum that just four MLS teams have the privilege of enduring.
After an exciting set of fixtures in the Conference Semifinals, the momentum from those four matches slowed with the international break. The week off has proved to be both a blessing and a curse for a New York Red Bulls side looking to balance the benefits of extra rest, while looking to build on their form heading into Sunday’s match in Columbus (5 pm ET; ESPN, ESPN Deportes, MLS LIVE).
“It’s a double-edged sword,” winger Mike Grella admitted. “It’s nice because you do get a rest and some time back home, but you still need to get sharp. You have to get it going again, pick up where you left off, and that’s not an easy thing to do. But both teams are presented with that challenge because of the break.”
For some of the RBNY regulars, the week off is a welcome sight. Given the grind that is the MLS season, a bit of time away to catch your breath and tend to some nagging aches and pains is vital.
“I feel good,” midfielder Sacha Kljestan told MLSsoccer.com. “It was nice to have a weekend off and get the legs back. Hopefully I’m feeling really fresh when the weekend comes, so for me, I’m good.”
Already missing three players along the backline due to international call-ups (two of them being starters), the onus falls on the rest of the group to find a way to stay tuned in during the most crucial part of the season. Off week or no, the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs can be unforgiving, and anything less than their best could well cost New York.
“We’re really focusing on making sure that we treat this week as a really tough training sessions,” captain Dax McCarty said, “try to get your base of fitness back under you after two days off and get the sharpness with the ball back.
“It’s all about striking that balance between pushing it hard and making sure guys aren’t picking up little injuries.”
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At training, the issue for Jesse Marsch and his staff has not gone unnoticed, and preventative measures have been taken to ensure this Red Bulls side, typically slow starters after a lay off, will be at their best in the first leg. After giving his side a bit of a reprieve the previous week, Marsch is ramping things up.
“We’ve been very open about what the challenges are and where we are,” he said. “Last week it was about down-throttling the physical part and this week we’re trying to get it back up. They’re plenty rested, they’re fresh and they’re ready to go.”