There were no major offseason overhauls following the Red Bulls’ first-ever season with hardware. Instead, the team looked to add depth for what will be a very busy 2014 season.
The Red Bulls captured their first major trophy in franchise history last year, taking the Supporters Shield for for the best record in MLS. As such, sporting director Andy Roxburgh and head coach Mike Petke worked on a tight budget under the league’s strict salary cap and sought to round out their roster with mid-priced acquisitions.
The Red Bulls do have a grueling MLS season, plus they will participate in the CONCACAF Champions League and the U.S. Open Cup this year, making for a crowded schedule. Their depth will be further tested with the likely loss of Tim Cahill (Australia) and Roy Miller (Costa Rica) in this summer’s World Cup.
“Of course it’s going to challenge our depth and it’s going to come down to me communicating with the players,” Petke said. “And if we have a mid-week game and a Champions League, or an Open Cup game and then a game on the weekend, players will be rotated and it really is not going to come down to all the time what’s more important— it’s going to be what’s necessary. So it’s going to be a challenge but I think we’re up for this challenge.”
Five things to look for during Red Bulls training camp …
1. The right back battle
The difficult decision was made this offseason to release Brandon Barklage, the athletic right back who had been the starter for the better part of the past two seasons. Kosuke Kimura returns as depth at the position but he will be strongly challenged for the starting job by the recently acquired Richard Eckersley. The Englishman is solid and knows MLS well, with 92 appearances over the past three seasons. He is relatively solid defensively and moves well into the attack.
2. Robles returns
Luis Robles really came into his own with the Red Bulls, finishing third in the league in saves last year. He has a healthy Ryan Meara to challenge him from the get-go this year, but Robles should have the nod heading into preseason. “Nothing changed for me,” Robles said. “I just want to help the team whatever way I can.” A source tells Metro the U.S. national team is tracking Robles and has been in contact with club management about him. More strong play and he could be well positioned for a call-up over the next year.
3. Sekagya’s second chance
It might be too late to have a first impression, with a bad giveaway in the playoffs playing a large part in the Red Bulls’ exit last year. But this preseason is crucial for Ugandan international Ibrahim Sekagya. He never had a chance to acclimate with the team after being signed midseason and appeared rusty. But this year he will enter as one of two starting centerbacks so the margin of error will be slim. He must be rock solid from the start.
4. Convey’s role
Bobby Convey, acquired in a trade this offseason, brings World Cup experience and plenty of seasons in MLS to New York. But while he has made his living at left midfield, he told reporters recently he can also be used in the center of the midfield for the Red Bulls and that the coaching staff seems to like him there. Convey’s versatility and international experience can only be an asset to the club this year, no matter the position.
5. Playing with Henry
It is a given that Thierry Henry will be one of the starting forwards this year, in what will be his final year under contract in MLS. But who partners with him is a mystery. Bradley Wright-Phillips, acquired last summer, showed flashes but didn’t produce much and Peguy Luyindula looked better suited for the midfield. So perhaps midfielder Cahill, strong in the air and with great movement, is the most logical of fits. He has been very effective up top in the past and would be required to do less running as a forward than in the midfield.
Follow Red Bulls writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.