Wednesday afternoon, Kosuke Kimura was playing alongside the first team defenders in preparation for Sunday’s San Jose Earthquakes match.
A good sign the New York Red Bulls would start him, right? Not so fast; Brandon Barklage started with the first team Thursday.
“Competition” is a buzzword that has echoed through the Red Bulls lockerroom since the arrival of Mike Petke as the team’s head coach. Though the battle at centerback has certainly overtaken the spotlight, the healthiest competition has been at fullback where Kimura and Barklage are vying for the top spot.
“Those two are in shape, in good mental states. Nothing to read into for either of them. They both know they are neck and neck and both doing well,” Petke said.
For the first match of the season, Kimura was given the start over Barklage. In Petke’s mind, he offered the better match up against Portland’s attack. As the game drew further and New York lost it’s bite, Barklage was given the nod to shore up the backline.
“Kosuke, there were reasons we went with Kosuke against Portland just like if we would make a change, there would be reasons behind it,” Petke said. “They bring the same things in certain situations and very different things in others. We are just trying to find the right mix.”
There has been concern over the Red Bulls backline this offseason. Though Jamison Olave has taken claim to his starting role and Roy Miller enjoyed a strong preseason, the rest of the defense remains in flux. Heath Pearce has temporarily usurped Markus Holgersson in the starting centerback role and, of course, Barklage and Kimura continue their battle on the right.
A shortened preseason and a late coaching appointment haven’t helped matters much either. For Petke, it is a situation he looks to ride through and solidify as the season continues.
“In a perfect world, I would have four players who are doing the job 100% then we can stick and get some chemistry going,” he said.
Though that may be the case, he also hinted that his current battle between Barklage and Kimura could last just a bit longer than the rest. “I don’t see it as that much of an issue with outside backs because I think it depends game to game on certain things,” he said. “What type of opponent we are playing, how they play against us.
“I was a centerback myself; I know it’s not the easiest thing to switch things around,” he acknowledged. “However, I need players to step up and earn positions and until that happens, I might have to sacrifice a little bit as far as chemistry goes with one or two positions.”