CCL Preview: Red Bulls Looks to Win Group Against Alianza

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by ANTHONY J. MERCED

New York Red Bulls have a chance to solidify their place in the group with hopes of advancing to the knockout stage of the CONCACAF Champions League with a win against Alianza FC on Thursday night at Red Bull Arena.

New York is currently riding a 13-game unbeaten streak in all competitions and taken points from each of their first two Champions League fixtures. A win against Alianza FC would give the team seven points and secure their spot in the knockout stages in early 2017. Expect a significant number of changes to the Red Bull roster which is recovering from injuries. Mike Grella, Dax McCarty and Ronald Zubar will be questionable, especially with a big league game in Toronto coming up on Sunday night.


PROJECTED STARTING XI:

New York Red Bulls: Reynish; Bilyeu, Long, Collin, Duvall; Davis, Adams, Felipe, Royer, Etienne Jr.; Veron

Player to Watch: Sean Davis has quickly become a reliable starting midfielder. With the recent injury to Dax McCarty, he has been called to be a consistent contributor both on offense and defense. His freekicks have been effective and his defensive work has made it possible for McCarty to recover without a need to rush back into action. Davis’ play has added depth and will serve as a key component to the Red Bull line-up on Thursday night.

X-Factor: Don’t underestimate the importance of putting the group stage to bed. A win would allow New York to rest players as the playoff hunt heats up. They will be motivated, as they have shown all season, to win for no other reason than it will give Jesse Marsch more flexibility as the MLS season draws to a close.


WHAT TO LOOK FOR …

New York Red Bulls have proven to be a far deeper squad than most expected in 2016. The inclusion of players like Aaron Long, Tyler Adams and Justin Bilyeu into their CCL mix has given Jesse Marsch the ability to mix and match during the congested September schedule. Expect players still looking to prove their worth off the bench to get significant minutes in this game and potentially decide the game for New York.

Their previous meeting with Alianza FC in El Salvador was gritty, like most CONCACAF Champions League games. However, the setting has switched back to Red Bull Arena where New York has only lost twice all season. New York will need to keep themselves focused on the goal but a win over Alianza should be expected and advancement to the knockout stage will be a major achievement heading into the remainder of the MLS season.