UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — A feisty Tuesday morning practice at the Red Bulls training facility pleased head coach Hans Backe.
As players tried to make their case for playing time down the stretch, Backe watched intently. Three separate shouting spurts broke out, and the Red Bulls coach stood by, finger over his lips, smiling slightly at the intense outbursts.
“I give them one, two minutes to fight and let them sort it out among themselves,” Backe said after training.
The Red Bulls hope that the intensity carries over to Saturday afternoon when they host defending MLS Cup champions Real Salt Lake. The matinee at Red Bull Arena will be a test to see how far the Red Bulls have come since dropping a 1-0 decision to RSL last month.
In the build-up to that match, Backe repeated again and again how he viewed Salt Lake as among the class of the league, along with Los Angeles and Columbus.
Now, holding the top spot in the East, the Red Bulls would appear to have joined that elite group. But Backe isn’t quite ready to claim too much.
“[We’re] in the top four, Dallas too, in the top five,” Backe said.
On Ángel: Recent reports have indicated that striker Juan Pablo Ángel, who is tied for second in the league with 13 goals this season, may be leaving the club at season’s end.
Sporting director Erik Soler said that no current discussions are on-going with Ángel.
“Earlier in the season, we were more in the mood to discuss those things,” Soler said on Tuesday afternoon. “[We have a] short-term, short-term, short-term focus now that we have a place in the playoffs.”
If Ángel does leave, his departure would open a designated player slot for the 2011 season, but Soler said the club has not begun the process of sorting through possible names to fill that slot.
Injury Update: Center midfielder Rafa Márquez may be on available this weekend against RSL. The Mexican sat out last Saturday’s win over Kansas City, having suffered a slight knee knock in practice. The Mexican national team captain did not train with the team on Tuesday but did knee strengthening and agility work.
For the second half of practice, Marquez worked on conditioning.
“He should be okay,” Backe said. “He helps a lot—a key player in the midfield. Vital for us.”
News & Notes: The Red Bulls lose midfielder Dane Richards to an international call-up this weekend and Backe was mum on who might slide into that role. One thing is for certain, it won’t be Mehdi Ballouchy. “He will not play in a wide, midfield position,” Backe said. . . . Long-injured defender Jeremy Hall trained with the team on Tuesday, participating fully in all drills and even the squad’s 11 v. 11. . . . Carey Talley did fitness and agility training off to the side as he continues to work himself into shape following a hamstring injury suffered nearly two weeks ago. . . . Long targeted English forward Luke Rodgers will be with the team in time for the 2011 season, the club said. “We expect him here in January,” Soler said. . . . Closing in on 300 appearances with the club, Mike Petke might see some playing time over the next few games due to certain selection circumstances. “It’s definitely a possibility for me now,” Backe said.
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012.