Jesse Marsch: “We’ve got to be ready to grind things out a little bit more, to fight our way through moments because we’re not going to be quite at our best yet.” ( Photo)

By Michael Lewis

Ready or not Red Bulls, here comes the CONCACAF Champions League.

They have about a little more than a month of preseason training under their collective belts.

Whether it is enough to get a result or a goal or two against Olimpia in the Round of 16 first leg at Estadio Saprissa in San Jose, Costa Rica Thursday night, it remains to be seen.

And Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch isn’t crying the blues.

“Listen, we’re still not exactly where we want to be yet, but too bad,” Marsch said after training in Houston Monday. “We’ve got to be ready to grind things out a little bit more, to fight our way through moments because we’re not going to be quite at our best yet, but who cares? I know this group is excited about the challenge and ready to go.”

While the Red Bulls must travel to Central America for this encounter, it will be played as a closed-door affair in a neutral stadium, which could negate any sort of home-field advantage for Olimpia, due to sanctions stemming from an incident that occurred during the 2017 CONCACAF League.

Olimpia is in second place in the 2018 Honduran Liga Nacional Clausura, unbeaten in nine matches for a 5-0-4 record and 19 points. The team trails Motagua (6-0-3, 21) by two points.

“The guys are becoming clear on what we have to deal with,” Marsch said. “It’s a team that’s playing very well, a team that hasn’t lost in their league. So we’re going to have a big challenge, that’s for sure. I think overall, the idea to come to Houston — it’s close to halfway between Arizona and Costa Rica and we can get down there easily for Thursday night.”

The rest of the squad is in Tucson, Ariz. to complete training. That team, which is composed of Red Bulls II, some Major League Soccer players and Red Bull Academy players, meets the Timbers Wednesday night.

“It’s good to have our smaller group together to really start to hone in and prepare for Olimpia,” Marsch said.

In last week’s 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City, 10 Red Bulls players went the full 90 minutes and only one starter — midfielder Marc Rzatkowski — played 75 minutes.

“We’ve had a good two to three days of recovery and regen,” Marsch said. “I think that we have four days of training to lead into the match, which starts to feel like a normal preparation week. Yeah, I feel good. Our guys are fit and they’ll be plenty fresh and ready to push.”

Marsch wished the preseason was longer, but that’s what you have to endure when you compete in the CCL. The second leg is set for Red Bull Arena March 1. The Red Bulls won’t open their Major League Soccer season until March 10, when they host the Portland Timbers.

“It’s been a short preseason, no doubt about it, but the mentality and energy has been right from the start,” he said. “We knew it was a big challenge when we came in at the very start of preseason. That 4 1/2 weeks it goes by like nothing, like the snap of the fingers. I still think we’ve gotten a lot out of a little time and we’ve got a good group that understands what we’re about and we’ll be ready.”

We’ll definitely know Thursday night.

Front Row Soccer editor Michael Lewis has covered 13 World Cups (eight men, five women), seven Olympics and 25 MLS Cups. He has written about New York City FC, New York Cosmos, the New York Red Bulls and both U.S. national teams for Newsday and has penned a soccer history column for the Lewis, who has been honored by the Press Club of Long Island and National Soccer Coaches Association of America, is the former editor of He has written seven books about the beautiful game and has published ALIVE AND KICKING The incredible but true story of the Rochester Lancers. It is available at