Jesse Marsch: “One of the fun things about our new formation has been that there’s so much flexibility to how we use guys,” (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

The worst kept secret in Major League Soccer these days?

That the Red Bulls will rotate their Starting XI for Friday night’s game at the Portland Timbers.

It seems only natural for several reasons.

Remember, New York used its A team for 120 minutes Tuesday night to earn a 3-2 win at FC Cincinnati in the Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup semifinals.

The Red Bulls are also in the midst of playing three games — two on the road — in seven days. They also want to save their energy for a six-point swing in an Eastern Conference and Hudson River Derby encounter against New York City FC Aug. 25. Since Portland is in the Western Conference, it only makes sense for head coach Jesse Marsch to do that.

And that doesn’t intimidate him at all with the team’s success. The Red Bulls have won eight of their last nine games in all competitions.

“One of the fun things about our new formation has been that there’s so much flexibility to how we use guys,” Marsch said in Portland Thursday. “We’ll … probably get some different guys on the field, which will be good. I think we’ll be able to now use all of our different players in ways that I think complement each other the right way. There will be clarity tactically because we’ve gone over things carefully.”

For example, Marsch will be able to rest some of his stars, such as Bradley Wright-Phillips, who scored twice, including the extratime winner vs. Cincy, and midfielder and captain Sacha Kljestan.

“It’s been a busy week, for sure, but I think we’ve maintained focus in a big way, and I think everybody had time to digest the event of the semifinal that night, and then we’ve moved on,” Marsch said. “A lot of guys, we’re trying to evaluate where they are at physically, a lot of guys want to play again on Friday.
We’ll see where we’re at, and then we’ll put a team out there that’s really going to go after the game, because in the table, I think it continues to be important which points that you can get.”

Regardless who plays, Marsch is expecting another solid game from his side.

“Still it will be a little bit different for the group that’s on the field, but there won’t be any excuses,” he said. “I think it will be important for each guy to step up, understand his role, execute, play well, perform, and if we do that we then we can give ourselves a good chance to win.”

The teams are coming off opposite results. The Timbers (9-9-7, 34 points), who are in fifth place in the West, were drubbed, 4-1, by Toronto FC Saturday.

“Portland, you know they’ve had a bit of an up-and-down season,” Marsch said. “They are coming off of a tough result against Toronto, but a very good team, a very talented team, a good team at home.”

Midfielder Diego Valeri is the straw the stirs Portland’s drink as he leads the side with 13 goals and eight assists in yet another marvelous season. Forward Fanendo Adi is next with 10 goals, followed by Sebastian Blanco (five).

“We expect another great atmosphere and a very dangerous attacking team,” Marsch said. “They’ve scored a lot of great goals, they have a lot of big threats, so we’ll have to do a good job of preparing, coming up with a tactical game plan and then executing it come game day.”