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Oppo Research: 5 Things you should know about Red Bulls

John Tolkin of the New York Red Bulls has amazing hair.
Good hair | Courtesy NY Red Bulls

For this edition of Oppo Research, Hudson River Blue asked Michael Battista of Hudson River Blue (and other soccer publications) to give us the dirt on the New Jersey Red Bulls, New York City FC’s opponent in Matchday 12 tomorrow night. That’s right, the answers are coming from inside the house

Red Bulls fans will be the first to admit their club are a mess this season: Head coach sacked, striker suspended, fan protests. The team are off to their worst start in memory, with just one win after 11 played. But the Red Bulls have a way of pwning New York City, and historically dominating their cross-state rivals in the Hudson River Derby.

Read on to see what Battista has to say in this NYCFC vs Red Bulls game preview.

Hudson River Blue: The Red Bulls are off to their worst start in memory, the front office just fired former head coach Gerhard Struber on Monday, and now Troy Lesesne is the interim head coach. Will this move reset the course? Or are the club in free fall? 

Michael Battista: The club was fully in free fall before Monday’s announcement and it’s still too early to say the team has pulled out of it. But Troy Lesene got his first win as an MLS head coach in the US Open Cup, a tournament he’s very familiar with and one that’s worth it to almost any team, and that has fans feeling more optimistic. He even called the Fourth Round match a chance to “reset” the season. The team still struggles to score and that was evident by all the missed chances on Tuesday night against DC United at Montclair State. The forward third is a scary place where Cory Burke and Tom Barlow scuff shots. Plus with all the injuries and Dante Vanzeir still being suspended, it’s hard to be fully convinced things are reset. But I and the nearly three thousand fans that attended Tuesday can definitely say things felt different.

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HRB: You wrote about the April 15 walkout staged by the club’s biggest supporters groups after the racist comments made by striker Dante Vanzeir and the response of then-head coach Gerhard Struber. The supporters were back in the stands last week – are these issues being resolved?

MB: First of all, let me start by thanking everyone who read and shared that article, especially from within the three RBNY Supporter’s Groups. As of now, it feels as though the issues are being resolved. Prior to last weekend, Empire SC noted that its members were happy with the steps that were being taken (Dante Vanzeir’s commitment to grow, RBNY implementing a training and education structure) but were not happy about the lack of consequences for Gerhard Struber. After he and the team parted ways on Monday, despite head of sport Jochen Schneider saying Dante’s incident on April 8 had no bearing on the decision, I assume they’ll be satisfied to a point. Both Viking Army SC & Torcida 96 returned to support the team last game and their anger was mostly directed at the poor performance against the Philadelphia Union.

HRB: What is working for the Red Bulls right now? Who is the team’s dangerman? 

MB: The entire backline is holding up the team. Centerbacks Andres Reyes and Sean Nealis have been stellar, both ranking near the top of MLS in challenges won. John Tolkin is a full-field menace, stopping opposing offenses while also being fourth in the team in both total shots (12) and shots on goal (four). I thought Cameron Harper would step in for Lewis Morgan as an attacking winger, but he’s been solid on defense. The former Celtic man has been a great asset, making huge passes in the midfield while helping to disrupt the opposing gameflow.

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HRB: What is the X-factor that could decide Saturday’s game?

MB: Injuries and missing players, plain and simple. The team is currently missing seven players due to injury, one due to suspension, and potentially will be losing Daniel Edelman to the US U-20 men’s national team. The absence of Luquinhas and Lewis Morgan has been felt up top, even though I didn’t think it could get worse there. Most of the squad minus Carlos Coronel and Sean Nealis are on short rest. Plus Cory Burke was a halftime sub on Tuesday and only played 20 minutes before leaving with an ankle injury. Even if he’s match-fit on Saturday he’s not going to be 100%.

HRB: Prediction time. Starting XI? Final score?

MB: See, this is a trick, right? If I say the Red Bulls pull out a win, I’m biased because I’m the only red guy here. If I say NYCFC, I’m a scab because I write for HRB now. It’s a no-win situation!

But when have I ever been smart? I think New York City will win, 2-1.

The predicted lineup is very sketchy because I don’t know who will be healthy this weekend, but: