The New York Red Bulls are practicing on a rainy Friday at their arena in Harrison, New Jersey. There is still a little yellow grass behind the goal down in front of the supporters end, and a yellow blur of turf on the penalty spot. The reporters and staff waiting at the side of the pitch may joke about it, but they admit that it is one of the best fields in MLS right now, and you can tell that head groundsman Dan Shemesh is proud. It is still growing, still thickening and anticipating its fullness. In a way, so is the team that is practicing over the pitch. At the beginning of the practice, the voices of the players had a playful ring in the empty arena. Now they have a very serious edge. At the end of the practice, they stop to talk.
“I worry about a million things. I am a walking contradiction.”
Chivas USA is a team looking for an investor this year, but that doesn’t appear to be one of the emotional intangibles that they are bringing to their game. There is, says coach Mike Petke, no sense that they are a team with their backs against the wall. Instead they are dangerous without needing any other motivation than to play a fast and organized game.
But more than looking ahead to this game, the questions today concern the last three, a loss in Vancouver and 1-1 draws against Colorado and Chicago. What everyone wants to know about is the seemingly slow start the Red Bulls have had this season.
“I want to get off to a slow start,” he says, laughing. “Same thing as last year.” But kidding aside, he doesn’t seem worried. “I would like more shots, more goals, but that will come.”
Sure, he worries. He even lists some of the things he worries about: his car starting in the morning, traffic on the way to the practice facility or the arena, whether the coffee he buys on the way in will be good. But as far as this team goes, he points to that contradiction. “At the end of the day leading up to the game, I’m confident. I have the utmost confidence in this team.”
“No alarm bells yet”
Luis Robles goes right to the point. “We’re three games in. The last two were good performances,” he says. “It is important to play well and pick up three points.” He also sees the team coming together. “We’re better, not perfect,” he says, but adds this reminder. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. “
“We have to get back in shape as last year,” echoes Peguy Luyindula. “We have to get back to the basics.” And in that echo, you can discern something that the team must be hearing from their coach since it is brought up independently on the heels of Luis Robles’ comments.
Even Thierry Henry points to getting back to basics as the way to win. “We have to defend well against Chivas and attack well,” he says. Very simple things. Scoring, then preventing the other team from scoring. In the team’s last game against Chicago, a 1-1 draw, he saw his position change.
“They asked me to play the middle against Chicago. We’ll see what happens Sunday.”
Tim Cahill doesn’t doubt the seriousness of the game ahead, but puts it in perspective: “It’s a long season and we’re going to have to start picking up points sooner or later whether we want it or not. No alarm bells yet.”
They say that April showers bring May flowers, but what about these rainy days in March? Maybe on Sunday, we will see how much this team has grown, and how much how much further they have to go to truly flower.