Be careful what you wish for, New York Red Bulls fans, because you're about to get it.
New York learned on Tuesday evening that they will be away to USL Pro side Charleston Battery on Tuesday, May 29 for a third round US Open Cup contest. It is not yet known if that match will be televised on TV in the NYC/NJ area. The RBNY official team website offered free streams for US Open Cup matches in 2011.
For those of you who may have forgotten, New York head coach Hans Backe treated the 2011 US Open Cup competition as Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp did Europa League fixtures this past fall; as a nuisance, and nothing more. Backe played reserve lineups in US Open Cup games last year, and the coach didn't even travel to Chicago for what was ultimately New York's final game of the competition. Such apathy toward the tournament angered Red Bulls fans, so much so that some organized a South Ward protest for the team's following Major League Soccer home game.
According to a report that Brian Lewis posted on the NY Post website late Tuesday evening, things will be different this time around. Lewis quoted Backe as having stated the following: "We will play the best Starting XI that we can in the Open Cup games. (We are) taking (US Open Cup play) more serious. Now with the schedule as I said, we don't have that much travel to the west coast, it helps a lot. Still, to be a little bit critical of US Soccer, if they want to take this cup serious you can't play on FIFA dates."
Before I get into the possible Red Bulls starting lineup for the May 29 match, I must first point out that Backe does have a point regarding US Open Cup matches taking place during FIFA dates. Following the Wednesday night (May 23) home contest against Chivas USA, New York will lose Rafa Marquez, Dane Richards, Joel Lindpere and Roy Miller to international duty. Backe will be forced to start at least somewhat of a makeshift lineup next week regardless of his true desires to win the Open Cup.
I'm hardly an expert on Charleston Battery. I've seen pictures and video highlights of their home turf, and I've also spoken with several people regarding the condition of the field. Depending on what the weather is like over the next week, the pitch could be in less-than-perfect shape come next Tuesday. Red Bulls fans should ask themselves this question before they start demanding Open Cup glory: Do you really want players such as Thierry Henry and Wilman Conde, two men who have missed time this season due to injuries, starting against Charleston if the field presents even the smallest injury risk to such key individuals? The Red Bulls are, heading into the Wednesday evening contest against Chivas USA, first place in the eastern conference, and they are just one point behind Real Salt Lake in the Supporters Shield race.
Losing Henry, who has already been sidelined for a month due to a hamstring injury, for even longer just because of the US Open Cup seems a bit silly at this point of the competition. Let's also not forget that rookie goalkeeper Ryan Meara and veteran front man Kenny Cooper could probably use a break before the start of summer. Having guys such as Cooper and Henry as second half options might not be the worst thing for New York next Tuesday.
I'm all for New York taking the Open Cup seriously in 2012. One thing we've learned over the past month, however, is that this team has enough depth to win MLS league games against average teams. No disrespect to Charleston intended, but a Red Bulls lineup similar to the one we saw last Saturday against expansion side Montreal Impact should be able to get the job done on May 29.