Red Bulls Could Use A Jolt from the U.S. Open Cup

The last (and first) time that the New York Red Bulls made the finals of the U.S. Open Cup in 2003, Tyler Adams was just four-years-old.

Now Adams and the rest of his teammates are hoping to make history, just three matches away from the title.

[Listen: Tyler Adams on the Red Bulls Insider Podcast]

The Red Bulls play the New England Revolution Thursday night at Harvard in the quarterfinals of the Open Cup. It is a pivotal match for a franchise that has never won this tournament or MLS Cup, a piece of tangible hardware that would validate in many ways the past two-and-a-half years of building and growth.

And in a season with plenty of ups-and-downs, the Open Cup can help buoy not just the locker room but a Red Bulls fanbase that could use a jolt. A win on Thursday over the Revolution would put the franchise into the semifinals for the first time since that run to the championship game in 2003.

Saying that “every cup game has a sense of urgency,” captain Sacha Kljestan readily admitted for a team currently out of the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference that the Open Cup could be a catalyst of sorts.

“That first [Open Cup match] against NYCFC gave us a little bit of kick start. Even that game against Philly, where I think in the end in of that overtime period they probably played better than us, but we rallied around the penalty shootout and have a positive result after that,” Kljestan said following training.

“So I think it’s already started the kickstart of the season where we’ve had a lot of ups-and-downs. Obviously, we want to keep this run going because I think it’s going to propel us through the summer months.”

The match against New England ends a stretch of six weeks with six matches, all against the same three opponents, all within the Eastern Conference. The scheduling quirk has proven meaningful in that there hasn’t been much strain due to travel.

It also has given the Red Bulls a certain bit of stability, having taken four of the five matches to date in league play and the Open Cup against their regional foes of New York City FC, Philadelphia Union and New England Revolution.

The setting for Thursday won’t be Gillette Stadium, where the Red Bulls eked out a 3-2 win last week in the game’s final moments. The Revolution are playing their Open Cup matches at Harvard, a more intimate setting but the program’s turf field is known for some crazy bounces.

“We don’t know Harvard at all. We’re going up a day early to kind of get used to the surroundings. I know Harvard … I don’t like Harvard,” head coach Jesse Marsch said with a laugh on Tuesday. Marsch is a graduate of Princeton and knows the Harvard program from many Ivy League duels.

“So yeah, I think it actually sets an advantage for them. It’s a field they know. They’ve played there a couple of years in a row in the Open Cup tournament. We have to learn what that will be like and be ready for that venue.”

As for the facility, Marsch said the team is heading up early on Wednesday to acclimate to the strange surroundings at Harvard.

“It’s not great – it’s not great turf. A bit windy over there. Boston can be a bit windy in general and they’re calling for wind on Thursday night so we might get a weather game like you often get in Boston,” Marsch said.

“That sets up for a real messy battle, that’s what it will look like I think.”

NOTES:

– Saying “I think he’s where he should be,” Marsch sounded optimistic that defender Aurelien Collin could be available for the Open Cup despite not training with the team on Tuesday. Collin is coming off a hamstring injury suffered several weeks ago in the Open Cup win over the Union.

“We’re continuing to try and monitor his load. He was training earlier in the week. We felt like today, given the balance of the week, the best thing for him was to get a light workout,” Marsch said. “We went through things tactically and he watched a little bit. If we need him to be ready from the start, he can be ready from the start.”

– Last Wednesday, the Red Bulls beat the Revolution 3-2 via a Gonzalo Veron strike in stoppage time. Veron’s strike comes after a season where the player has rarely started.

“Listen, it’s always hard with Gonzalo to figure out how to use him in certain moments based on how we line up. He likes being a lone striker, so does Brad. The more that he performs well, adds something at different moments, the more we can consider him for bigger roles. One of the keys is keeping him fit, keeping him healthy, keeping him sharp,” Marsch said.

“I have to often address questions with Gonzalo, but nothing has ever changed in my belief in him or what he means to this team. It’s just always trying to put him in positions to succeed with the group.”