This weekend, they will likely look to another former Salt Lake player, newcomer Jonny Steele, to shore up their midfield.
A left calf strain is likely to sideline Brazilian playmaker Juninho, 38, for their encounter against the San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday evening. It will be up to Steele, who practiced alongside the first team during Thursday’s training, to pick up the slack in his absence.
“With Juninho out, Jonny has some good experience playing in Salt Lake. I always liked the way he played,” head coach Mike Petke said. “He’s an aggressive, biting type of player who also has a very good tactical sense – especially in the midfield system that he was with in Salt Lake – and somewhat has some similarities with the way we want to press and want to work here.”
Steele was a late preseason acquisition for the club, appearing in the team’s final offseason match against New England. He earned his first minutes with the team on Sunday as a late game sub as well.
Thursday, he was paired with Dax McCarty in the middle during an inter-squad scrimmage, with Tim Cahill pushed further up midfield. Though mostly taking a defensive tact during training, he did take command of the offense from the right flank on occasion.
“He fits right in there and he’s a good professional,” Petke said. “He’s come in late into preseason fit, no issues there, and I think he provides us with the depth that we’re going to need, for instance, this weekend with a key injury and with a team like San Jose.”
San Jose presents problems for New York. Petke cited speed as a major concern, specifically naming Shea Salinas and Michael Fucito as potential threats. With Steele in the middle, he hopes to neutralize that aspect of their game.
“We are just looking at whoever is back there as well as the players in the midfield in front of them to keep good spacing, block off the channels,” he noted. “San Jose is a very compact, very organized team and they look to break pretty quick with a guy like Wondolowski. It’s about them keeping on their toes, dropping when there is no pressure on the ball from San Jose so we are not hit with a ball over the top.
“It’s a battle,” he said. “It’s going to be a fight and (Steele) is the kind of guy I’d want in a fight.”