In a 3-1 win in Atlanta last May, Ryan Meara filled in admirably for the injured Luis Robles. In the return fixture, the Red Bulls played arguably their best game of the 2018 season in blitzing the Five Stripes 2-0 at Red Bull Arena despite missing Tyler Adams and Bradley Wright-Phillips.
The Eastern Conference powerhouses meet for the first time since last year’s Eastern Conference Championship series on Sunday (5 pm ET | FS1 — Full TV & streaming info) and the Red Bulls will again be without standout players.
Wright-Phillips will likely miss his fifth straight game with a groin injury. Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said the nature of the soft tissue injury makes it difficult to predict the length of the forward’s absence.
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“We have looked at the calendar and we're hoping, but it’s been a game-to-game thing because that’s the truth,” Armas said after training Friday. “That’s what the information is from our medical staff, our doctors and then we see how Brad's feeling. That’s a real indicator, how the player feels. We do think it’s close because he's doing a lot. We just have to be smart with it, that's all, and make sure we're doing all we can do.”
Wright-Phillips, who has one goal in six regular starts this year, was doing gym work Friday and didn’t participate in on-field training.
“It's a little bit tricky. We've gotten the proper imaging and tests, so no real concern with that,” Armas said. “So, it's really about how the player feels and can he do what he needs to do to meet the demands physically? That's where we take all the information to account, which our comfort level is not there yet.”
That likely means another start for Brian White, the hard-working forward who has two goals in four appearances, including starts in three of the last four games. White also got the nod when Wright-Phillips missed that pivotal September showdown due to yellow card accumulation.
“I'm proud of Brian for the way he has filled in,” Armas said. “Brian does a lot. He’s learned from Brad, Brad continues to mentor him and you can see a lot of similarities there.”
Defender Aaron Long is a self-professed “quick healer,” according to Armas, but it appears not quick enough to be on the field Sunday and it’s likely the reigning MLS Defender of the Year will miss a second straight game due to a hamstring injury suffered during a 2-1 home loss to the Montreal Impact May 8.
Armas has targeted the road game against FC Cincinnati next Saturday, the team’s third in seven days, for Long’s likely return.
“He's looking pretty good,” he said. “We’ll progress him the right way because he's a sprinter, he’s a fast guy so we’ve got to make sure he's fully healed, but he's looking pretty good.”
The positive news on the injury front involves Robles, who sat out Saturday’s 3-1 win over FC Dallas with calf tightness. It’s something that bubbled up in the preseason and Armas said, given that match was the club’s third in eight days, it was important to not push the veteran goalkeeper unnecessarily.
“He's a possibility for Sunday and he has had a bunch of days with no issue in his calf,” Armas said. “It was just some tightness and he had a little issue in preseason with that. So we were smart at how we went at this past game. He had a good day today, so we'll make that decision later after he gets some treatment and we’ll see how that goes.”