Jesse Marsch decided it was time to right the ship.
The Red Bulls head coach used Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup match against the Atlanta Silverbacks as a way to jump-start his struggling team. After three straight defeats in league play, the Red Bulls halted their slide with a convincing 3-0 home win.
It’s not normal practice for a Major League Soccer club to field a strong starting lineup in the early stages of the U.S. Open Cup. The Open Cup – technically considered the equivalent to England’s FA Cup – has never been treated with the same type of respect the FA Cup gets. But with the Red Bulls in the midst of a losing streak and with a big league match upcoming against the Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday (MSG 6:30 PM), Marsch circled the Open Cup match as a way to build momentum.
“You look at the selection and say ‘yeah, that is our first group,'” Marsch said in his postgame press conference. “But whoever is on the field for this game, we are going to put forth our best effort because that’s who we are as a team. We are taking this tournament seriously and we want to win this U.S. Open Cup tournament.”
The win over the Silverbacks reversed a couple of troubling trends for the Red Bulls. New York kept a clean sheet for the first time since its May 15 0-0 draw with FC Dallas and got a goal from Bradley Wright-Phillips for the first time since the English striker scored twice back on May 10 in the 2-1 win over NYCFC.
“I think it’s no secret we’ve struggled these last couple of week in the league for results,” Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty said to the media. “The game against Houston was probably our poorest performance to date and we wanted to get that bad taste out of our mouths.”
While the win will give the Red Bulls much-needed confidence, the result was somewhat marred by the injury Lloyd Sam suffered during the match. Sam had to be substituted after a strong sliding challenge from a Silverback defender caused an ankle-and-groin injury that leaves the winger’s status in doubt for Saturday’s home contest vs. Vancouver. Injuries are a risk a coach takes when fielding a strong squad in a Cup match, but it’s one that Marsch isn’t regretting.
“If you take the field ever being afraid of getting injuries, then you are going to put yourself in a position to get injuries and you are never going to compete for anything,” Marsch said. “This is part of our world; we think that Lloyd will be fine. We think it is a minor injury, but we will continue to address it day-to-day here as we go. We are hopeful that he will be able to recover and hopefully be ready for Saturday.”
A LOOK AHEAD VS. VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
The Red Bulls return to MSG Network Saturday, as they take on the Vancouver Whitecaps at Red Bull Arena.
Since coming into Major League Soccer in 2011, the Whitecaps have never finished above fifth place in the Western Conference, but things are different this season. Coached by former Red Bull Karl Robinson, the Whitecaps are in second place in the West with an 8-6-2 record and 26 points.
Nine of the 18 goals scored this season by Vancouver have come from two players: Octavio Rivero, a striker from Uruguay and team captain Pedro Morales, a gifted playmaking midfielder. Rivero has tallied six times in 2015 after being signed in the offseason from the Chilean Primera Division side O’Higgins. He was the MLS Player of the Month in March and his 6-foot-2 frame will be used to wreak havoc against the Red Bulls defense.
Morales has scored three times season and found the back of the net last year against the Red Bulls in a 4-1 win for the Whitecaps in Vancouver. He’ll occupy the “No. 10” position in the Whitecaps’ 4-2-3-1 formation and it’ll be up to the Red Bulls’ holding midfielders to shut the Chilean down.
The good news for the Red Bulls is that they’ll have both Ronald Zubar and Matt Miazga available. Zubar is fully recovered from injury and scored Tuesday, while Miazga returned from US Under-21 duty this week. Marsch remained coy Wednesday when asked about who he’ll start at center back, but it’s a selection headache he welcomes.
“It’ll be great to have [Zubar and Miazga] back,” he said. “It puts me in a situation where I have to make a tough decision because I have three first-choice center backs on our roster.”