By Michael Lewis
Man, talk about going from zero to 60 in such a short time.
After weeks of not playing any soccer games, the Red Bulls and New York City FC will knock heads, literally and figuratively, at Red Bull Arena as they return to play in Phase 1 of the MLS return to play.
Then each team is slated to play six games over the next three weeks.
It’s been a while since either team has performed in a competitive match.
“We have a good staff who can handle it very, very well,” NYCFC center back Maxime Chanot said during a media conference call Tuesday morning. “So, I’m not worried too much. It’s going to be the same issue with every team so now we’re ready. We waited so long to be back on pitch now we cannot either use it [as] a fake excuse. Six games in three weeks is exciting. It means we’re going to play a lot and that’s every football player wants.”
The Red Bulls were ousted from group stage of the MLS is Back Tournament, losing to FC Cincinnati, 2-0, on July 22. So, it will be almost a month.
The time off allowed the Red Bulls to reflect on what went right and what went wrong, especially the latter.
“We walked away from that tournament feeling that we did not show our best,” team captain Sean Davis said. “We shot ourselves in the foot at times and, so we have to limit mistakes and we have to continue to be aggressive on both sides of the ball, whether that is pressing or generating chances.”
The Red Bulls prepared for the season in January before the COVID-19 pandemic closed down stadiums in March. The team returned to training in June for the Orlando tournament. And now another long time between games that count.
“It almost feels like a third preseason for us, but I think we walk away from that assessing ourselves honestly and knowing that we can be better,” Davis said. “I think we are excited to show that. This game cannot come soon enough, we have been looking forward to it since Orlando. We are realistic with where we are at, but we have been training really hard to again be aggressive on both sides of the ball.”
Aaron Long welcomed the time off for his teammates to recharge their batteries on several levels – professional and family.
“It is a good offset for us,” the center back said. “We got to wind down from the tournament and see our families and then knowing that NYCFC was our first game back, it makes it easy to ramp up, easy to get re-focused, get re-fit, do a lot of video, so we feel really prepared and ready.”
NYCFC competed in the tourney in Orlando, Fla. until Aug. 1, but was eliminated by the eventual champion Portland Timbers in the quarterfinals, dropping a 3-1 decision.
“I mean, we all know it’s been a tough situation for everybody,” Chanot said. “Obviously for a football club, it wasn’t easy to start playing games and have to stop for a couple of weeks. I think it’s even better to to start against the Red Bulls. We know this team. We know it’s going to be a tough game. I think it’s always good to compete against the best and it’s going to be a good game. It’s going be a good test to see where we are right now.”
While NYCFC stumbled early on in Orlando, forward Heber was encouraged on how the team improved in latter matches. “We improved a lot for sure,” he said. “We hope we can play well and show for everybody how we hard we’ve worked.”
With so many games over the next three weeks, making sure he doesn’t run any players into the ground should be a priority for NYCFC head coach Ronny Deila. He hasn’t thought about rotating players, at least not yet.
“We have to see from game to game,” he said. “It’s only one game I think is three days between so [the rest is] four or more. So, then everybody will recover to the next game, all the time. … We want to have consistency in what we’re doing. At the same time you want to have fresh legs on the pitch. So that’s can be individual things that can be some injuries, that can be bad performances or good performances. It’s to adapt to what’s happening. And the opponents we’re going to play against as well. That’s going to be important to see what we need to do different games.”
After the next three weeks, there can be international matches for NYCFC players looming. So, Chanot, a Luxemburg international, won’t be surprised if City loses some players to European national teams.
“So we are going to probably lose some players,” he said. “It means it’s going to be a challenge for Ronnie to find the right players to play. But I say we believe. We believe in ourselves.”