It’s a welcomed opponent for New York in the next phase of a tournament that features the top clubs in North and Central America. Both the Whitecaps and the Red Bulls advanced to the knockout stages of the tournament for the first time in franchise history. Unlike their other possible opponents, both MLS teams will be in preseason mode when they face each other in late February.
This is an advantage for both teams, considering the juggernaut clubs from Mexico and Costa Rica will be in the middle of the season. In the past, these sides have had the advantage in terms of overall match fitness. MLS clubs have had difficulties with this in past tournaments and this matchup ensures that at least one MLS team advances to the semifinals of the Champions League.
“In all reality, it is not the worst matchup, it is an opponent that we know,” Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch said Friday.
“One of the reasons why I say it is not the worst matchup is because Vancouver will be on a similar cycle that we’ll be on. And a big challenge of the tournament will be trying to get yourself game-prepared against teams that already are in midseason and we’re not even starting our season. In that sense, it will be an even playing field.”
While Vancouver has never been an easy opponent for the Red Bulls — particularly on the road — the fact that they face a team lacking fitness is a major positive for New York. Admittedly, it would have been highly entertaining to see a Mexican powerhouse at a snowy Red Bull Arena in the middle of winter.
Going up against a team that is also going to be in preseason nullifies one of the major advantages that Latin American teams had against MLS clubs.
“I know it’s been difficult for an MLS team to win it because of the time of year that it is,” midfielder Mike Grella said. “Vancouver will be in the same time so maybe that will give us a little bit of an equal playing field.”