EAST HANOVER, N.J. — The New York Red Bulls complete one of the strangest sequences of scheduling in club history Thursday night. In their last five matches, they’ve faced just three opponents, a list which will remain the same size when they return to the same state they were in just a week ago to play the same team in a different competition.
After playing New York City FC and Philadelphia twice in four weeks, knocking each out of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup before facing them in Major League Soccer play, the Red Bulls will look to do the reverse against the New England Revolution. They defeated the Revs at Gillette Stadium for the second time in 15 years with a 3-2 victory last Wednesday via a Gonzalo Veron stoppage time goal, earning three crucial points in the MLS playoff hunt against a team close behind in the standings.
Now the Red Bulls head to Harvard to play the Revs once again, this time in the Open Cup quarter-finals on a far smaller scale. Jordan Field holds a maximum capacity of 2,500 fans, creating an intimate environment which will surely become raucous soon after play begins.
“Probably not, to be honest,” said club captain Sacha Kljestan on whether the smaller venue will make a difference. “We played up in Rochester last year, that was a bit intimate. Not a big crowd up in that game, but yeah, that’s what the Open Cup is. It’s never an easy road, it’s always a tough draw with lots of crazy stuff that usually happens in the Open Cup so it’s all about being on our toes, no red cards, stuff like that, not getting intimidated, just staying focused.”
Playing without centerback Aurelien Collin in the first meeting with the Revs, the Red Bulls were carved up by Diego Fagundez and Lee Nguyen throughout the match but particularly in the opening half in which it suffered two goals. Collin is expected to be fit for Thursday’s Open Cup tie, giving New York the option to go with the three-at-the-back strategy which looked promising while it lasted against Philadelphia in the Round of 16 of the competition.
Marsch admitted to using some of the new wrinkles in the defensive shape seen over the past few weeks, be it the three centerback, six midfielder look or placing five in the back, be it from the start of the match or as a tactical adjustment. It worked in the last meeting, helping neutralize the tandem of Fagundez and Nguyen in the second half.
Another reinforcement can come in the form of a revitalized Gonzalo Veron. His time on the pitch remains limited in his third season as a Red Bull but his productivity as of late has been astounding — in a total of 13 minutes between his late appearances against the Union and the Revs in MLS play, Veron provided two assists and a match-winning goal.
He also appeared in the final half-hour of New York’s 2-0 loss to Hudson River rivals NYCFC and provided nothing, though the team as a whole struggled on the day as the Blues ran rampant at Red Bull Arena.
In Marsch’s eyes, neither side of that spectrum, not the ups and not the downs, change how he views Gonzalo’s role on the team.
“It’s always hard with Gonzalo to figure out how to use him in certain moments based on how we line up,” Marsch said. “The more that he performs well and adds something at different moments than the more we can continue to consider him for bigger roles. One of the keys is keeping him fit, keeping him healthy, keeping him sharp. I have to often address questions with Gonzalo but nothing has ever changed in my belief in him and what he means to this team. It’s always trying to put him in a position to succeed.”
If the Red Bulls pull off the victory in New England, they are guaranteed to meet a lower-league side in the semi-finals of the competition, with whoever wins the match between National American Soccer League’s Miami FC and the United Soccer League’s Cincinnati FC.
If they lose, they’ll be knocked out of the competition prior to the semi-finals for the 14th consecutive year.
Regardless of the result, New York will be facing a different opponent than the same three recycled teams of the past month and a half next week when the San Jose Earthquakes comes to Red Bull Arena.
But that is the furthest thing from Marsch’s mind.
“Our total focus right now is on the quarter-final,” he said. “We know what a big opportunity this is to put ourselves in a chance to win a cup. To be honest with you, I wish kick-off were today. I wish we could play right now because we’re anxious to get after this game and get back up there and get at it again.”
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