The Red Bulls will be the last MLS club out of the starting gate tomorrow night, when they take on the undefeated (tee hee) Columbus Crew at Stade de Swamp (7:30p, FSC).
Change is usually the only constant around the New York club, who in the off-season dumped former US skip Bruce Arena for the former Metro Assistant Coach Juan Carlos Osorio. However, the wholesale changes that usually accompany a NY off-season failed to materialize. There are only (!) 10 new faces on the Red Bulls' roster, and those mostly consist of draft picks, a veteran keeper (Zach Thornton) and a 31-year old Colombian striker Oscar Echeverry, who'll mostly provide cover up front when Jozy Altidore's away with the Nats or the Olympic team. New York has room under the cap for a decent international signing, but so far JCO has yet to pull the trigger on any acquisitions. As such, the club is younger and greener than the one that dropped an 0-1 series loss to New England in the first round of last year's playoffs. Who would have thought the club would be criticized for a LACK of change. Strange. Anyway, here's a line-by-line look at tomorrow night's match versus the Crew.
The Columbus forwards vs. the Red Bulls' defense:
Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Alejandro Moreno vs. Jeff Parke, Carlos Mendes, and Kevin Goldthwaite (and Jon Conway). The Crew has a stable of improving young forwards, but the South American starters form a potent attack for Columbus. Moreno has 31 career tallies in his time with Houston/San Jose and LA, while Schelotto can not only score but dish out chances (11 assists last season). New York's three-man back line debuts tomorrow night, but with starter and US U-23 man Hunter Freeman out 4-6 weeks with an ankle sprain, the much maligned Goldthwaite gets the nod at left back. The former TFC man spent most of the '07 season on the bench, but apparently has impressed the new boss enough to start. This could get ugly. Advantage: Columbus
New York's attackers vs. the Crew's defense:
Jozy Altidore and Juan Pablo Angel vs. Stefani Miglioranzi, Danny O'Rourke, Chad Marshall, and Frankie Hejduk (and Will Hesmer). New York's front line is flat out one of the best in the league. Angel looks to continue his tear through MLS defenses (19g in 24 app in '07), and Altidore looks to have a stellar final season in a NY uniform before Europe beckons. The Crew D shut out Toronto FC last week, which isn't all that hard, though G Will Hesmer snuffed a TFC penalty that would have changed the game. Frankie Hejduk keeps going... and going... Slight Advantage: New York
Luke Sassano, Seth Stamller, Claudio Reyna, Dave van den Burgh, and Danleigh Borman vs. Eddie Gaven, Brian Carroll, Adam Moffat, and Robbie Rogers. Starting MLS rookies on both wings doesn't exactly inspire confidence, especially with a three-man back line behind them. However, the Red Bulls will go as far as Captain America will take them, and NY fans are hoping that Reyna will be able to handle the attacking midfielder role as well as his usual d-mid position. Stammler and VDB will help funnel the attack through the middle. On the Crew side, Gaven and Carroll are MLS vets that show rare flashes of brillance. Moffat, the young Scot, will make only his 2nd MLS appearance. Rogers is a US Youth International. Slight Advantage: New York
What to expect from Osorio? He's clearly passionate about the game, and did wonders enlivening the Fire last season (with some help from Temoc Blanco), but without any new signings, its hard to believe his club is going places. Sigi Schmid hasn't made the postseason in his two seasons in Columbus, but after beating powder puff TFC last week, he has a confident squad on his hands. Advantage: Columbus
Opening night #3 in the Red Bull regime, and a pre-game charity match featuring Ethan Zohn, and former Metro Steve Jolley will attempt to draw a crowd. RB is actually marketing this year, so we'll see if a crowd of any size appears. Doubtful. Weather: Cloudy, 56 degrees after a day of rain. Advantage: Push
Prediction: So many uncertainties on what New York will show. Let's say goals from Moreno and Angel in a 1-1 draw.