June 1, 2012
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES
Red Bulls are serious about the Open Cup this time
By Kristian R. Dyer
|Jan Gunnar Solli: “It is definitely something we want to take advantage of this year. It’s a great opportunity, I want to say, to go all the way."
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
BigAppleSoccer.com Contributing Editor
UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – This time, it is for real.
After sending a makeshift squad to last year’s 4-0 loss in Chicago in the quarterfinals of the Lamr Hunt/U.S. Open Cup, the Red Bulls fan base revolted at the lack of seriousness with which their club took the annual tournament. For a franchise still without major hardware, the Open Cup represents a shot at a major accomplishment for New York and a ticket to the CONCACAF Champions League.
Last year for the loss to the Fire, coach Hans Backe didn’t even travel with the team. On Friday, Backe wasn’t present at the team’s training session, away on a personal matter as assistant coach Jan Halvor Halvorsen led the practice. However, Backe is expected back for Saturday’s session at Montclair State University and is expected to travel for Tuesday’s fourth round game against Harrisburg.
Halvorsen said it is a game that the team wants to win.
“The cup is very simple: it is to win and go to the next round and if you lose you go out. Last year it was a little bit difficult with the cup for us because of the Gold Cup so we had a lot of players out and we had a lot of travelling to the West Coast at that time,” Halvorsen said.
“But this year we take the cup seriously; we want to go all the way.”
To their defense, the Red Bulls were hit by an injury bug last summer around the time of the July loss and lost several starters to the midsummer Gold Cup as well. This year, however, the Open Cup seems to be something that the club is taking more seriously and wants to capture.
Based off the lineup used against Charleston, New York will use a heavy dose of their starters to advance.
“It is definitely something we want to take advantage of this year. It’s a great opportunity, I want to say, to go all the way,” midfielder Jan Gunnar Solli said.
“With the talent we have, we want to go all the way.”
It won’t be easy, even playing against supposedly inferior competition. Last year, a Fire side that didn’t even make the playoffs knocked off the Red Bulls and then the year before, it was this Tuesday’s opponent that ended New York’s Open Cup run.
Solli expects to play a determined City Islanders side next week.
“You see a lot of the teams; it isn’t a walk in the park. A lot of teams losing in the first round, it has been a lot," he said. "The teams we meet in the Open Cup, if you play soccer, you want to get work. So when you face a MLS team, you run 10 percent more, you tackle 10 percent more."
“If we come out lower, all of a sudden, everything is more equal. You saw that in Charleston, they had some good opportunities, especially on set pieces.”
Halvorsen, drawing upon his experience playing in Denmark, Germany and his native Norway, says that the upset factor is the beauty of the Open Cup. The Red Bulls need look no further than their opponent on Tuesday for proof of this: Harrisburg knocked off the New England Revolution earlier this week to advance in the tournament.
“The cup is very exciting in England and Europe and also back home – it’s very open," Halvorsen said. "If you’re not 100 percent professional in these games, and you drop down 20 to 30 percent, you can lose. You can see in the last one here that it was [a lot] of MLS teams that lose."
“We have to be prepared and 120 percent professional.”
What a difference a year makes.
Follow Kristian R. Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for updates on the Red Bulls all season long.