Next man up
Because of the team’s depth, the Red Bulls always have a mentality of “next man up.” They didn’t sweat it when Bradley Wright-Phillips and Tyler Adams weren’t able to play in a key late-regular season meeting against Atlanta United last year or when Kemar Lawrence was injured for the Eastern Conference Final against the eventual MLS Cup champions.
While acknowledging how Michael Amir Murillo will be missed for the first leg of the quarterfinal tie against Santos Laguna after picking up his second yellow card in two legs against Pantoja, the Red Bulls also know they have a capable right back in Kyle Duncan.
“He has different qualities, he can defend one-v-one in a certain way, his engine to get up and down, he’s good in the air and he tactically understands, so it was great and part of the plan even to see him get some minutes tonight as we approach Tuesday and even on the weekend,” Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said. “He’s fearless and he’s a breath of fresh air when he’s out there, glides around the field. He loves playing. He fits in many ways. So, I think we’ll be relying on him in the next few games.”
The 21-year-old came off the substitute’s bench to replace Murillo Wednesday night just before the hour mark. It was the first time he stepped on the field since suffering a season-ending injury early in 2018.
“It was pretty emotional,” Duncan said. “I had the motivation of my players, my family, also the fans and the staff. I felt I had something to prove. I went back out there, played my game and I think I’m doing well.”
Brrr x 2?
The weather conditions were far from ideal Wednesday night with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees at kickoff and declining from there.
The Red Bulls are hoping more of the same next Tuesday when they host Santos Laguna.
“I think it suits us a little more than it suits the Mexican or Caribbean teams,” Sean Davis said. “We don’t mind the cold and obviously we love playing at Red Bull Arena so we’re really looking forward to it.”
There were some negatives, though. The Red Bulls like a slick surface, which allows for quicker ball movement, but the grounds crew was unable to dampen the field before the game because the water immediately turned to ice.
“You can see with some of the shots and crosses, there’s just not a lot of life in the ball,” Armas said. “But in our building, we love being here and we love playing when it’s cold, so we’ll take this night again.”
On Wednesday night, the Red Bulls extended their CCL unbeaten streak at Red Bull Arena to nine matches (6-0-3) since the building opened in 2010.
Roster rotation for the Crew
The focus shifts now to the MLS opener Saturday in Columbus where the Red Bulls are expected to field a heavily rotated squad against the Crew.
That likely means no one who played 90 minutes, sans Luis Robles, will start. The only other regular will be Murillo, since he’s suspended for first leg against Santos.
The Red Bulls preach about their depth and it will again be tested on Saturday. The same scenario played out a year ago and a largely reserve squad crushed the Portland Timbers, 4-0, in the MLS regular season opener last March.
“Those three points ended up being huge at the end of the year when we’re fighting for Supporters’ Shield,” Davis said “Every single game is important and I believe we have the right players to go after that game in the right way.”