There have been stops and starts for the New York Red Bulls as the team and MLS move forward toward a restart of the 2020 season.
Twice last week, the team chose to delay its flight to Orlando, where the league will be holding its MLS is Back Tournament, because of COVID-19 test results. But those delays weren’t enough to unsettle Red Bulls coach Chris Armas, who is excited about the tournament and confident the league will pull it off safely.
“Let’s face it: I’m human, like the whole team, and it is an uneasy, unnerving time, in general,’’ Armas said Friday. “And now, we are going to a place in the country (Florida) where (COVID-19)’s maybe on the upward part of that curve.’’
But Armas, a Brentwood native who played college soccer at Adelphi before a long career in MLS, said he is confident in the tournament setup, where teams are going to be sequestered in a hotel on the ESPN Disney World complex, and practicing and playing all their games there, with no fans in attendance.
“We’re going to the MLS ‘bubble’ that they’ve created — not necessarily to Orlando, in that volatile community of (positive coronavirus) cases,’’ he said.
The Red Bulls first delayed their trip to Orlando after MLS announced Wednesday that six FC Dallas players, who were already in the bubble, had tested positive for the virus. Then, on Friday, the Red Bulls themselves had a scare when a staff member’s test for the virus came up inconclusive, which prompted a second delay. That inconclusive test came back Saturday as negative, and the entire contingent flew to Orlando in the afternoon.
Armas was eager to look beyond the delays and start thinking about soccer, and his team’s chances of winning the tournament. The Red Bulls were 1-0-1, and in a four-way tie for second in the Eastern Conference, when MLS halted its season March 12 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the restart tournament, the league’s 26 teams have been put into five four-team groups (and one six-team group), with the top two teams in each group, and the top four third-place teams, advancing to the 16-team knockout round.
The Red Bulls were placed in Group E, along with Atlanta, Columbus Crew SC and FC Cincinnati. New York’s first tournament game is scheduled for Saturday against Atlanta, the 2018 MLS Cup champions. Atlanta (2-0) was in first place in the East when play stopped.
“I would say that we have a lot of respect for their team,’’ Armas said. “However, we think we have a good game plan going in; we think we can disrupt what they try to do. We are going into that game with full confidence. And we’re going to be aggressive.
“And we think that’s going to give us a real chance in all the games, starting with Atlanta.’’