It's finally here. The 2013 kicks off today with six different MLS games. None of them feature the Portland Timbers, of course, but it's still exciting nonetheless.
Tomorrow is when our action begins as the Portland Timbers take on big-spenders the New York Red Bulls. As with the Timbers this off season, the Red Bulls have retooled their squad considerably, bringing in 12 new players as well as a new head coach (though certainly not new to the team). To help us, and you, figure out how this new squad is shaping up I interviewed Once a Metro writer Dan Ferris.
Check it out:
Before we get into the nitty gritty, let's start with the basics: What's new with the New York Red Bulls? Who's there now that wasn't last year and what kind of impact are they expected to make?
There are a total of twelve new players so far for 2013. Three key pieces I'll mention right off the bat are Fabían Espíndola, Jámison Olave, and Juninho.
Espíndola and Olave were acquired in a highway robbery from Real Salt Lake, who was looking to clear serious cap space and traded them to New York for allocation money. These guys may have been expendable because of younger talent coming through the RSL pipeline, but will likely become central pieces to this Red Bulls team for the next few years.
Juninho joins New York for his 20th and possibly final year of professional soccer from Vasco de Gama of the Brazilian first division. He's considered one of the best dead ball specialists in the history of the sport, has won trophies in leagues across the world, and has both World Cup and UEFA Champions League experience. He definitely showed last year that even at thirty-eight years old he can still contribute at a high level. If he stays healthy, Juninho has the potential to be a surprise MLS Best Eleven candidate this year and a major factor in any Red Bull trophy aspirations.
I'd be remiss not to mention new head coach Mike Petke, who is actually younger than the aforementioned Juninho. He has a long history with the team as a player and more recently as an assistant coach under Hans Backe, and is being given the keys to a very expensive and flashy car. With the veteran leadership the team has not just from Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, and Juninho but also guys like Heath Pearce and Dax McCarty, Petke's job will be to focus on researching opponents, preparing game plans, and implementing them during practice sessions - something so fundamental that was allegedly missing from the team under Hans Backe.
How much of a loss to the NYRB is Kenny Cooper? For scoring the second most goals last season, he was seemingly under criticism quite often from fellow players, fans and coaches, why?
I never appreciated Kenny Cooper when he played for Dallas, Portland, or briefly for the U.S. National Team, but last year as a Red Bull he completely won me over. I am incredibly disappointed to see him go, but also recognize that for Designated Player level money the Red Bulls would not keep him. I think the criticism came mostly from former head coach Hans Backe and a little more subtly from Thierry Henry. To me, eighteen goals speaks for itself, but some fans picked up on the rhetoric that for being a relatively large guy, he doesn't impose himself physically as well as he could. Beyond his stats last year, Kenny is also just an outstanding person who did an amazing job representing the team both on the field and in the community. Hopefully he's able to thrive back in Dallas.
Thierry Henry is undoubtedly New York's most important player. Can you give us an update on where he is typically playing these days? Does he still drift down into the midfield fairly often? Is he as prolific a goal scorer as he used to be?
Despite never playing on turf fields and missing a few weeks here and there, Henry has still got it whether he drops back into the midfield or stays up closer to the goal. In years past, he's drifted more when he hasn't gotten the service he wants. That should change drastically with Juninho spreading the ball around. If the Red Bulls midfield lets down for just one minute though, I won't be surprised at all to see Henry emerge to make a strong challenge and try to fire up his teammates. Especially with Kenny Cooper gone, however, his primary job this year is going to be to score goals, hopefully like this one: http://www.mlssoccer.com/
For a team that spends so much money, year in year out, is 2013 a make or break year for the club with regards to securing a trophy?
Money aside, for a team that has never won a meaningful trophy, the idea of make or break has long passed. Specifically in regards to the current "Henry Era" for the club, it sounds as if he has another year or two of playing left after 2013, so the chances of New York doing something special before he calls it quits are a little higher with the added cushion of time. Honestly, I don't see the Red Bulls winning MLS Cup this year, but maybe they make a serious run in the U.S. Open Cup and bring home a trophy that the fans want so desperately.
Predicted starting line up?
The "pre-game notes" list Digão as a projected starter, and if that is the case then the Red Bulls may be making a more serious play for his brother Kaka than anticipated! Mike Petke has stated he wants the attack to be very free flowing and interchangeable with players taking over different spaces in certain moments. That said, Luis Robles will start in goal, with a likely backline of Roy Miller, Heath Pearce, Jámison Olave, and Kosuke Kimura. The midfield should include Connor Lade, Dax McCarty, Tim Cahill, and Juninho, and Fabían Espíndola will join Thierry Henry up top.
Super thanks to Dan for taking time out of his day to be interviewed. You can read more about the Red Bulls at his site Once a Metro.
What do you think of the New York Red Bulls after this new information? How do you expect the Timbers to counter some of their more prolific players?