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Young New York Red Bulls looking to surprise in 2018

New York Red Bulls defender Michael Murillo looks to control the ball against Club Tijuana in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals first leg at Estadio Caliente. (MEXSPORT/CONCACAF)

The 2018 MLS season is finally here for the New York Red Bulls and the buzz is palpable.

Three games without a loss, including a historic 2-0 win at Club Tijuana, in the CONCACAF Champions League certainly helped create some excitement about a young team full of talent, if not devoid of an established Major League Soccer superstar.

Gone are Sacha Kljestan — the second captain to be shipped off in consecutive offseasons — and Felipe, replaced by budding stars in Tyler Adams and Sean Davis in the midfield, while Tim Parker looks to partner with Aaron Long in central defense in front of stalwart goalkeeper Luis Robles.

And, oh yeah, there’s Kaku! After long wait, Alejandro “Kaku” Romero Gamarra is here and he will be a key cog in the Red Bulls attack this season.

Kaku-era begins as Red Bulls hosts Portland Timbers in 2018 opener

When: March 10, 7 p.m.

Where: Red Bull Arena

Broadcast: TV — MSG2; RADIO — Red Bulls Radio

Live stream: MLS Live

The buzz: Red Bulls fans agonizingly counted down the days of #KakuWatch for most of the offseason before they finally got their reward when the young Argentine attacking midfielder was signed Feb. 16. Now they get to see the Young DP make his MLS debut against a Portland team coached by a former MetroStars legend in Giovanni Savarese, who comes back home in his second game in charge of the Timbers after a season-opening loss to the LA Galaxy.

Other key matches

May 5 vs. New York City FC – In a few short years, the Hudson River Derby has become one of the league’s fiercest rivalries, one that was decidedly red to start, but trended blue a year ago. Red Bull Arena will be a cauldron for the first of three eagerly-anticipated showdowns. Maybe the two coaches comments about young player development and foreign coaches will make for an interesting touchline.

July 1 at Toronto FC – This is the first meeting between the Eastern Conference foes since a contentious playoff series last November, which included a well-publicized halftime melee between Sacha Kljestan and Jozy Altidore. Kljestan is gone, but this is still one of the juicier matchups of the season. Surely, Fox cameras will be filming the tunnel at the end of the first half.

October 28 vs. Orlando City SC – This isn’t the first meeting between the teams, but it will be Sacha Kljestan’s first time back at Red Bull Arena since the offseason trade that sent him to the Lions. The reception by the fans will be interesting after the former captain criticized the Red Bulls for lacking “difference makers” during his time there.

Check out the full 2018 schedule here

Quotes & Notes

Jesse Marsch on chances to win MLS Cup – “The league is harder than ever to win, no question. But I am more optimistic sitting here right here as the coach of this team that we can be champions than I ever have been. I’m really excited to get this season start, really excited to keep pushing this team because I know we’re going to get better and better.”

Denis Hamlet on Kaku’s strengths – “His ability to change the game on a single play is pretty special, it’s different. The way he handles the ball, the way he commands, his ability to see things is what attracted us to him. After many scouting videos and watching him, you can see his willingness to work against the ball is something important.”

Kaku on excitement level to make MLS debut – “It is true, I have a fast style of play which I think will fit in well with the club. I’m training, I am learning and I would like to start playing at Red Bull Arena as soon as possible. I want to give 100 percent, I want to win, I want to show why Red Bull chose me, I want to display the class that I have and I also want to learn.”

Luis Robles on underdog perception – “As we fly under the radar, as everyone talks about everything that’s happening outside this locker room, we realize we are being underestimated. But, it presents an opportunity for us to really show and put our best foot forward while no one is looking.”

Biggest offseason moves

  • For the second consecutive season, traded their captain when Sacha Kljestan was dealt to Orlando City SC for Carlos Rivas and Tommy Redding.
  • Landed their Young DP in Alejandro Romero “Kaku” Gamarra from Club Atletico Huracan in Argentina, ending a long courting process. The 23-year-old is expected to replace Kljestan as the team’s playmaker.
  • Sent midfield linchpin Felipe (and $500,000 in TAM) to Vancouver to acquire Tim Parker in an effort to shore up the central defense.
  • Acquired midfielder Marc Rzatkowski on a season-long loan from sister club Red Bull Salzburg

Roster breakdown

Forwards – Stefano Bonomo, 25; Carlos Rivas, 23; Bradley Wright-Phillips, 32

Midfielders – Tyler Adams, 19; Vincent Bezecourt, 24; Cristian Casseres, Jr., 18; Sean Davis, 25; Derrick Etienne, Jr., 21; Alejandro “Kaku” Romero Gamarra, 23; Ben Mines, 17; Armando Moreno, 22; Alex Muyl, 22; Daniel Royer, 27; Marc Rzatkowski, 28; Florian Valot, 25

Defenders – Aurelien Collin, 31; Fidel Escobar, 23; Connor Lade, 28; Kemar Lawrence, 25; Aaron Long, 25; Michael Murillo, 22; Hassan Ndam, 19; Tim Parker, 25; Kevin Politz, 21; Tommy Redding, 21

Goalkeepers – Evan Louro, 22; Ryan Meara, 27; Luis Robles, 33

See full roster details here

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