Derrick Etienne Jr.: “We want to go out there and be able to dictate the game and get a win. That’s the only thing that matters.” (Photo courtesy of MLS)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

When American teams — national and club – have competed in San Jose, Costa Rica, enthusiastic, loud and intimidating crowds have tried to make life as miserable as possible for the gringos from the north.

When the Red Bulls visit Estadio Nacional for their CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 match Thursday night, the atmosphere at the venue will be nowhere near the intensity of those confrontations.

Except for the coaches yelling instructions to their respective teams, the Red Bulls and Olimpia will experience mostly silence from the sidelines and the rest of the stadium. While it is the Hondurans team’s home game, it will a closed-door encounter in the first leg as part of an on-going sanction against the club levied during the 2017 CONCACAF League.

For midfielder-forward Derrick Etienne, Jr., it doesn’t matter where the team plays or whether there is a full or empty house.

“We’re not really focused on it,” he said in a recent interview. “We want to go out there and be able to dictate the game and get a win. That’s the only thing that matters. We can play on a dirt field anywhere. We can play at Santiago Bernabéu. But the most important thing is the three points. That’s the most important thing we’re focused on.”

If the Red Bulls can manage to return home for the March 1 home leg with a win, a draw or an away goal or two, that would be considered an achievement.

After getting eliminated by Vancouver in the CCL quarterfinals last year, the Red Bulls realize they weren’t in tip-top shape. So, they decided to change their preseason preparations this winter.

“We’re putting a lot into it,” Etienne Jr. said.

After the Red Bulls’ elimination by eventual MLS Cup champion Toronto FC in November, head coach Jesse Marsch already had a plan in place.

Etienne Jr. said Marsch told the team to “take a couple of two weeks off, maintain fitness because we want to come in sharp.”

Before preseason practice, many Red Bulls players were training on their own at their East Hanover, N.J. facility.

“We saw that last year that we didn’t really come in as sharp as we could,” Etienne Jr said. “I feel that this year that it’s showing in the way we’re playing. From the scrimmages that we’ve gone through. we’ve physically put things on our terms and dictate the way the games are going early. From that standpoint, we have started off better this year than last year.

“We’re putting a lot into it. It’s a competition that we really want to win. We went the farthest we’ve ever gone last year. So that’s something.”

The Red Bulls came close to taking home some silverware in another competition, dropping the Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup final at Sporting Kansas City.

“We want to go to the final and win trophies,” Etienne Jr. said. “We’re putting a lot into this. I think that this is something that will really set us up well that if we do go out there and dictate the game on our terms. We’ll qualify for the next round. I think that will give us an extra pep in our step and confidence going into the beginning of the season, that we can go in and make a quick run of things.”

Before they kick off their MLS season, the Red Bulls will host Olimpia at Red Bull Arena March 1. After taking the opening MLS weekend off, New York will welcome the Portland Timbers and former MetroStars standout Giovanni Savarese, now the Portland coach, to RBA for their season opener Saturday, March 10.

The stadium should be rocking that night, in contrast to the sounds of silence at Estadio Nacional Thursday night.