A closer look at the Red Bulls’ positional battles

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By FRANCO PANIZO

The New York Red Bulls are near the midway point of their preseason preparations, which means the battle for starting spots is really beginning to heat up.

Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke started what many could see as the club’s opening-day lineup in a friendly vs. the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday, and the result was a 2-1 victory at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla. that demonstrated the chemistry New York’s first-team regulars have with one another. The starters moved the ball quickly and sharply and created many chances en route to scoring both goals.

As impressive as the first unit was, there are few positions that are already locked up ahead of the 2014 campaign. Several reserves are still attempting to make a case to Petke as to why they deserve to start for the defending Supporters’ Shield winners when they get their new season underway on March 8, which should make for plenty of intriguing battles during the second half of preseason.

Here’s a look at some of the Red Bulls’ current positional battles:

BOBBY CONVEY vs. ROY MILLER

The fight for left back is officially underway.

The Red Bulls brought in Convey this offseason to bolster their depth at left midfield and left back, and the veteran is beginning to make a case for a starting spot at the latter position. Convey looked good getting forward vs. the Union, defended competently and combined well with his new teammates.

Still, Miller is currently New York’s longest-tenured player and the chemistry the Costa Rican has with the rest of the back line is an asset that should play in his favor as the meaningful games draw near.

LLOYD SAM vs. ERIC ALEXANDER

Alexander was the de facto starting right midfielder for much of 2013, but Sam took some minutes away from him towards the latter part of the season.

That competition will apparently carry over into this season, as both attempt to claim a starting role on a team with plenty of attacking talent. Sam was stellar against Philadelphia and provides the type of width that Alexander cannot replicate, but Alexander is better defensively and has made strides at a position that is not his natural one.

KOSUKE KIMURA vs. RICHARD ECKERSLEY

Kimura may currently have the inside track at right back, but that’s mostly because Eckerlsey was only recently able to join the Red Bulls.

A delay in the receipt of Eckersley’s visa caused him to miss much of the first half of New York’s preseason preparations, but Petke has been impressed with the veteran in the short time he has been with the club. Kimura may have gotten the nod on Wednesday, but did not necessarily do enough to put a clamp on a starting spot.

This could be one positional battle that goes down to the wire.

ARMANDO vs. IBRAHIM SEKAGYA

When the Red Bulls signed Spanish centerback Armando this offseason, many observers looked at the move as one strictly for depth purposes. It might end up being one that landed a starter.

Armando has made an impression in camp and started over Ibrahim Sekagya, who was kept over Markus Holgersson this offseason, on Wednesday. Armando showed composure on the ball and good distribution out of the back, but he was a bit too casual on a couple of occasions.

Sekagya might not be as technically-gifted as Armando, but he is still a physical defender who has already proven to be a solid complement to defensive anchor Jamison Olave. What may be equally as important is that Sekagya has experience playing in MLS whereas Armando is still assimilating to his new teammates, the club’s style of play, and MLS.

RYAN MEARA vs. LUIS ROBLES

It’s tough to imagine Robles being dethroned given how well he played down the stretch last year. The Red Bulls, however, are high on Meara and Petke said several times late last year that the youngster was not seeing the field only because he was playing behind one of the hottest goalkeepers in the league at the time.

Petke is surely keeping an open mind as to who his No. 1 will be for the season opener, but the onus is on Meara to show the type of form he was in during his impressive rookie season in 2012.

Interestingly enough, though, Meara did not play at all against the Union. Instead, it was youngster Santiago Castano who replaced Robles midway through the second half.

PEGUY LUYINDULA vs. BRADLEY WRIGHT-PHILLIPS

Luyindula and Wright-Phillips are not in an open competition at the same position, but what they are essentially fighting for is the final spot in the Red Bulls’ starting lineup.

Much like at the tail end of the 2013 campaign, Luyindula was once again deployed at center midfield on Wednesday. That allowed Tim Cahill to play more advanced in a forward role next to Thierry Henry, and the combination showed well as New York moved the ball quickly and sharply.

Wright-Phillips, meanwhile, showed off his speed and aggressiveness in the second half. If the Englishman can continue to do that for a Red Bulls side that lacks some pace in the attack, Petke will need to decide whether it is better to insert Wright-Phillips up top as a starter and drop Cahill back into Luyindula’s spot in midfielder or leave Luyindula at center midfield and have Wright-Phillips be a primary option off the bench with Cahill starting as a forward.

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What do you think of these positional battles? Who would you like to see start for the Red Bulls?

Share your thoughts below.

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24 Responses to A closer look at the Red Bulls’ positional battles

  1. cj says:

    In my opinion:

    Convey>Miller
    Alexander>Sam (need defense)
    Eckersley>Kimura
    Armando>Sekagya (too many errors in playoffs)
    Meara>Robles
    BWP>Luyindula (BWP can bag goals)

    • LB says:

      I agree with what you said, except:
      - Sam>Alexander (Alexander has been known as an average player)
      - Robles>Meara in MLS play

      I’d also put Convey over Steele at left midfield and keep Miller at left back.

    • MB says:

      Just about off on all of those. Wow. Impressive.

    • Jambo says:

      Cahill up, peggy should drop back. Defense is fine. Robles is fine. Whats lacking is a attacking mid with good vision. Peggy provides some of that. Goals will come with good service.

    • james says:

      1 correct
      2 incorrect i dont recall redbulls giving up a ton of goals or any significant goals due to Sam. I however remember them being more offensively productive with him over Alexander
      3 correct
      4. incorrect Sekagya made one error which was unfortunately costly, he however was the best defender in those games apart from his one mistake. this Armando guy sounds like Tim Ream 2.0
      5 correct
      6. incorrect Timmy bags goals as well and he will compliment Henry . Rebulls however player much more fluid with Luyindula in the middle and creates for chances as well as keep more ball possession .

  2. Colin French says:

    With Henry frequently missing games due to turf or rest this season, I think we’ll see a lot of both Wright-Phillips and Luyindula.

  3. Joamiq says:

    Petke showed that he’s adept at rotating the squad, and the Red Bulls’ older players will get injured, so I don’t think these battles are really going to be settled – they all will play plenty. Except for Meara – he probably needs a move. He’s too good to sit behind Robles for another season.

  4. Quit whining about soccer in the US says:

    Olave, of course, is not in any battles….and if he goes down, this article will have been a waste of bandwidth.

    Maybe I am wrong, I doubt it, but I am very impressed with what Petke has done as a coach.

    Should be a very fun season with the East boosting closer to the West in a league that was already insanely competitive.

  5. Bill says:

    So has Convey changed his tune on playing left back? He was openly hostile to the idea in San Jose and, to a lesser extent, Toronto…

  6. RBNYFanatic says:

    Let us really be honest here… regardless of who comes out of the spring training with the starting spot, the team that wins will be put on the pitch. RB brass wouldn’t have gone out and signed backs if they were confident in what they had. Sekagya was garbage at the end of last season and he was a summer transfer (from RBSalzburg) so while corporate may like him, there is no real loyalty from Petke or the fan base. Armando steps up and plays well, the spot is his. If Robles plays as well as he did last season Meara might get a few CONCACAF games but that will really be it. Peggy and BWP will probably platoon up front and whoever scores the most will probably get the most minutes alongside Henry, but even then it has already been stated that they are going to conserve Henry more this season, so we probably will see a lot of Peggy and BWP up front together. Convey isn’t just fighting out for LB, he also plays a pretty decent mid… he could get in the mix for those spots too. All in all, this is a good problem to have… competition breeds success… if all of these players elevate their level of play, this could be a real exciting season.

    • TomG says:

      I’m pretty much opposite your view, fanatic. I actually thought Sekagya was decent, but I was shocked at the LACK of signing any solid, dependable CB while letting Holgersson go. To me, their lack of depth at CB is shocking considering that Olave has had a history of injuries and isn’t young anymore, Sekagya is older, and Armando and Miazga are completely unproven. Olave goes down and this team is likely completely dead.

    • slowleftarm says:

      Sekagya was good, other than the error in the playoff game (and I realize that’s a huge error). When he and Olave were together, I thought they looked like a pretty solid combo. Given their age, I’d like some more depth but with the salary cap, keeping Holgersson too wasn’t an option.

  7. Chris says:

    I wonder if Meara might be trade bait sooner or later. There are plenty of teams that have worse starters lined up than him.

  8. Tim F. says:

    Franco, I thought putting Luyindula in the midfield was one of Mike Petke’s great coaching decisions last year. Why is Luyindula going up top again?

    I still don’t understand why the team let Brandon Barklage go and held on, instead, to Kosuke Kimura. Maybe there was an undisclosed injury or something.

  9. The Zimmer says:

    Funny how all these battles (save which of Henry’s buddies will play) are a RACE WAR!!!

    • TomG says:

      cuz there’s nothing funnier than a good, old fashioned race war??? Ooookaay, I think you win the SBI award for creepiest sense of humor.

  10. Simon_M says:

    What about Connor Lade right back/left mid?
    Is he considered depth only? Still injured?
    Unknown commodity?

  11. Simon_M says:

    As for the Left mid spot, Steele was strong last
    season. However the addition of Convey doesn’t
    add much improvement at the position outside
    of quality depth.
    A left mid with strong crossing skills would be
    extremely useful. A possible spot for DP3 even

  12. RBNY says:

    Cahill and Henry up top, Luyindula and Dax in the middle should be the starting lineup. BWP first forward off of the bench and starting on turf.

    Ibra and GOAL-AVE in the middle of the defense with Robles in net. The flanks are the only positions up for battle.

    Above all, I don’t want to see Timmy playing that withdrawn midfield role as much anymore. He turned into a beast once he linked up with Titi more often in the danger area.

  13. Scott A says:

    Whoever plays, they’ll all have a little Petke in them, and that’s a good place to start.