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Building preseason knowledge: New York Red Bulls vs. Real Salt Lake

Feb 14, 2013, 9:27 AM EDT

Mike Petke

TUCSON, Ariz. – A ridiculously quick 2-0 lead – “Quick” as in three minutes! – may not have been surprising considering the starting lineups in Wednesday’s second contest in the Desert Diamond Cup.

Real Salt Lake’s B team was up against Thierry Henry and the rest of the Red Bulls top choices, after all. But how about this for a preseason kick in the head: it was the reservists from RSL who took that jaw-dropping early margin.

By the end the Red Bulls had made up, controlling the game as you would expect after those early wobbles and seeing out a 2-2 draw. But who cares about results? Here is what we can take away from Wednesday’s match in the surprising cold desert:

  • Jason Kreis wants to begin building the team’s weekly routine. Hence the choice to roll out a second-choice lineup. Saturday’s contest against Seattle will see the first-teamers start.
  • Red Bulls manager Mike Petke (pictured) wants to play in a 4-2-3-1 this year. New York’s starting lineup looked like this: Santiago Castano. Brandon Barklage, Markus Holgersson, Jamison Olave, Connor Lade, Dax McCarty, Juninho; Lloyd Sam, Tim Cahill, Thierry Henry; Fabian Espindola.
  • Thierry Henry played alongside the left, which was interesting to watch. He was more or less having his way against RSL young defense; things will surely be harder when the real shin-kicking starts. Still, having Henry operate in space, more or less as a left-sided playmaker has something interesting about it. It looked just a little like his old Arsenal days, when the fab Frenchman tended to drift left in Arsene Wenger’s alignment.
  • Petke has one conundrum, it seems: Where to play Juninho, the team’s veteran (let’s call him veteran-plus) Brazilian midfielder. He was next to Dax McCarty on Wednesday and paled him comparison to his ginger central midfield mate. While McCarty was his usual busy self, winning balls, linking the play, always involved, etc., Juninho was rarely involved. At all.
  • Clearly, a 38-year-old midfielder doesn’t want to waste too much energy in a preseason exhibition. Still, Juninho’s ability to cover ground and willingness to tackle and otherwise be involved seemed alarmingly sluggish.
  • Cahill played behind Fabian Espindola in the 4-2-3-1. I’ll know more when I talk to Petke today or tomorrow at a training, but it looks like the formation gives RBNY’s new manager a lot of flexibility. Espindola could play wider (he tended to drift wide in his RSL years anyway). Tim Cahill can play closer to goal. Henry is smart enough to play any of the positions. Which leaves Juninho …
  • More match details are here from the Red Bulls side.
  • Rich Balchan, formerly of Columbus and recently released from Chicago, is now in RSL camp. Balchan had some good matches in Columbus; not sure what the issue is, but the 24-year-old Indiana University man always seemed to have potential.
  • Know how you can tell it’s preseason? Kreis, usually impeccably dressed along the sideline, was in jeans and an RSL jacket. I had to look twice to make sure it was him.
  • As for the two early goals? Considering the Red Bulls top two goalkeepers (Luis Robles and Ryan Meara) were unavailable, it’s hard to be too concerned. The first goal, just seconds into the match, could possibly be linked to information being provided to Conor Lade on a back pass gone wrong.
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