Red Bulls Face Grueling Test Of Endurance In El Salvador

Nearly an hour after Saturday’s 3-1 victory over the Montreal Impact at a sweltering Red Bull Arena, New York Red Bulls defender Sal Zizzo sat at his locker, sweating profusely. With a sense of shock he said, “I can’t cool down. I even took a cold shower. I can’t stop sweating!” To give you an idea of how exhausting the match was, consider that Zizzo only played 30 minutes and enjoyed the luxury of one of the two water breaks given to players during the match.

Eight of the 11 Red Bulls who took the field on Saturday played all 90 minutes on a night when the heat index comfortably eclipsed triple digits for many hours. Even the players who remained on the bench were seen sweating tremendously. Compounding the extreme heat exhaustion players suffered from, the Red Bulls were just one week removed from playing three matches in seven days, and on both coasts. Now, with Tuesday’s CONCACAF Champions League match in El Salvador looming, those same players are going to have to dig deep and test the limits of their conditioning as they travel even closer to the Equator.

After defeating Guatemalan side Antigua 3-0 at Red Bull Arena two weeks ago to open CCL play, the squad will find themselves in a (literally) hostile environment as they take on Alianza FC (Tuesday 10pm, broadcasts TBD). El Salvador’s infamous crime rate has earned it a travel warning from the US State Department. However, the heat and humidity of the Central American country will present the most difficult challenge to New York. Tuesday’s weather forecast for San Salvador calls for 90 degrees with 95% humidity and potential severe thunderstorms.

Though coach Jesse Marsch has told his players that they’ll all be going, it’s hard to see a situation where he’ll use many of the same players from Saturday. Simply put, they’re gassed. Like the CCL match against Antigua, expect to see many young players, and others who’ve found it difficult to get playing time with the first team. Goalkeeper Ryan Meara, as well as Shaun Wright-Phillips, Tyler Adams, Derrick Etienne, and Justin Bilyeu should all see the pitch. Newcomers Danny Royer and Omer Damari may also gain experience with their new teammates – depending on the status of their CCL eligibility (to be released with the roster on Tuesday).

To deal with the logistical hurdles of traveling to and playing in El Salvador, the Red Bulls will arrive on Monday, train Tuesday morning, play the match, and then travel back the same night. The travel itself will be a test of their physical and mental hardiness. The match itself will present challenges of its own. In addition to Alianza winning last year’s national Apetura championship, El Salvador is well entrenched in CONCACAF’s stereotype for hack-a-thon matches, whereby teams reject ball movement in favor brutal physicality on the pitch. It’s likely there will be many ice packs and bandages on hand for New Yorkers.

Throughout his year-and-a-half in charge, Jesse Marsch has shown that he is unafraid of utilizing his depth in order to give his players rest. He’ll need to summon his creativity and roster depth to help his squad through a unique and difficult challenge on Tuesday.