New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch (left) speaks to one of his players after a recent preseason game. (Photo courtesy of New York Red Bulls)
TUCSON, Arizona -- New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch knows the importance next week's Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
He has called his team's first-leg encounter with the Vancouver Whitecaps "one of our biggest matches, if not our biggest match, of the entire season."
That's a strong statement, especially since the Red Bulls will not have played a competitive game in 2017 prior to that encounter.
When the game kicks off at Red Bull Arena on February 22, New York will have been in training camp for less than a month.
“For us being in this Champions League tournament, it means that we have a four-week window, which is incredible how short amount of time that is to try to prepare," said Marsch. “It’s tested us in a lot of different ways, but I think in some ways it’s good because its put a real urgency into what we’ve done every day.”
In Saturday’s 3-1 friendly win over FC Tucson, the Red Bulls played their three most important players -- goalkeeper Luis Robles, midfielder Sacha Kljestan and striker Bradley Wright-Phillips.
Kljestan -- whose corner kick set up the first goal by defender Sal Zizzo -- and Robles played 90 minutes. Wright-Phillips was replaced in the 65th minute.
“There were a lot of little plays in there where on a day where we’re a little sharper we could’ve scored quite a few more goals,” Marsch commented. “That’s what preseason’s about, trying to get them a little bit fitter, a little bit sharper, a little bit cleaner, so that now when the bigger games come that they’re ready to go."
The Red Bulls meet rival New York City FC in their Desert Diamond Cup opener here on Wednesday and Houston Dynamo on Saturday.
“We’re under a little bit of a time crunch, but we’ll be ready," finished Marsch. "We’ll put a lot into these next few days and then come the 22nd we’re ready to throw our best effort out.”