March 5 ,2014
McCarty: In year's past, it was too easy for Red Bulls coaches to make starting decisions; there's more competition on this year's team
By Michael Lewis
|Dax McCarty: "There's going to be legitimate competition at every position on the field. When you have that, it makes for a very competitive team, but it also makes for a very good team."
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
NEW YORK -- Head coach Mike Petke has a problem, says veteran midfielder Dax McCarty, something that should be an ongoing problem for the Red Bulls this Major League Soccer season.
Blame it on the team's depth.
"It's a great problem for Mike to have," McCarty said at Red Bulls media day at Stage 48 in Manhattan Tuesday night. "It's a selection headache. Honestly, there are going to be guys this year they're not happy they're not playing and that's good. It's going to be on Mike to decide what guys play in certain situation in certain games. but I think in year's past it's been too easy for coaches to make selections. The team sort of picks itself.
"Now, there's going to be legitimate competition at every position on the field. When you have that, it makes for a very competitive team, but it also makes for a very good team."
The Red Bulls, one of the league's original clubs, kick off their 19th season at the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday.
As opposed to many teams during the off-season, the Red Bulls did not have a major makeover as in year's past. They essentially stood pat, getting defender-midfielder Bobby Convey and right back Richard Eckersley from Toronto FC. In contrast,, Toronto, for years the sad sacks of the years, improved itself by acquiring U.S. international Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe.
McCarty did not think that was the end of the world. In fact, he felt that familiarity brought contentment on the field.
"You absolutely can't take away how much it means to be able to know that the teammate that you're playing with has certain tendencies," he said. "If I know a guy like Thierry [Henry] has a tendency to drift out wide, or I now a guy like Peguy [Luyindula] has a tendency to drop into the middle, wants the ball at his feet, if I know a guy like Bradley [Wright-Phillips] has a tendency to look for a ball from behind, that's just going just to help the team.
"I know these guys. We've played together now .. a year or two, some guys three years, some guys six or seven months. Even if that short time, you get to now guys' tendencies, what they like to do and what they don't like to do. whereas if you're changing seven, eight new guys, you're bringing in a whole new team, that's a whole learning curve all over again. You don't know what certain players like to do, you don't know how they like to play. That's a huge advantage that we have in the off-season over a bunch of other teams."
There has been some concern by Red Bulls that the team did not do enough during the of-season to improve themselves.
"Some people say, 'Oh, maybe they were a little too stagnant. They didn't go out and get enough players,' McCarty said. "What I said to that, 'Listen we won the Supporters Shield for a reason. We still don't even think we played up to our capability. So we still think we have room to grow as a team. to me, That's a great starting point to have in any season."
The Red Bulls midfield is their strength. They have six players striving for four starting slots, and that doesn't include Australian international Tim Cahill, who is expected to begin the season up top alongside Henry, even though he has played most of his Red Bulls tenure in the middle.
McCarty looks like the one player who is most assured as a starting spot as a holding mid in one of the central roles. Then Petke can mix and match, depending on who has looked good in training or for tactics game-by-game. Luyindula, who joined the team as a forward, has looked dangerous as a playmaker, especially at the end of last season. Or, Petke can use Eric Alexander alongside McCarty. On the right flank, Eric Alexander, who was called into U.S. National Team camp in January, was dependable and can provide solid defense. Or, if the coach wants more of an attacking flair, he can use the fleet Lloyd Sam. On the left side, Jonny Steele came off such a strong season that he was capped by Northern Ireland in an international last fall. Or, veteran Bobby Convey can be used in that spot or as a left back.
"When you're talking about being successful in MLS, you've got to talk about depth," McCarty said. "And you have to talk about flexibility and versatility. Those three words are so important when you're building a roster. You don't know what's going to happen. International call-ups. injuries. guys lose form. When you're two deep at every position and you have midfielders that can literally play every position in the midfield, that's something that's such an advantage to you. You don't need to have a rookie necessarily step in right away and be thrown to the sharks, sink or swim. Hey, good luck guy. You have a couple of different guys who are able to fill-in of different roles."