In the team’s first match of 2019, the New York Red Bulls defeated Swedish side IF Elfsborg, 2-1, in a preseason friendly on Saturday, Jan. 26, off two late Daniel Royer goals.

The game was played in Bradenton, Florida at IMG Academy, a private prep boarding school and sports training complex that has become a regular stop for professional and national team squads – including playing host to the U.S. Virgin Islands as a home venue during its ongoing CONCACAF National League qualifying campaign.

The action during the match was quiet for the first 45 minutes, but picked up in the second when Elfsborg’s Paweł Cibicki converted a penalty kick in the 59th minute. A late substitute by New York brought on Royer, who evened the score in the 80th minute.

Just when it seemed the teams would end the match with a draw, a late penalty inside the Elfsborg box allowed Royer to step up and sink the day’s final goal giving New York the win.

These sort of games are never really about the result though, as both clubs came away with valuable experience. Both of these teams finished their seasons last year in drastically different positions, with Elfsborg ending 2018 four points above a possible relegation playoff. Now both clubs will continue training with the hope of better season finishes this year.

An interesting note about this game was the starting lineup. With rumors circulating regarding Club América’s recent interest in Kaku, it was good to see the Argentinian start the game and play a solid half an hour before being subbed off. The #KakuWatch will continue though as eyes focus on both New York and the Liga MX side. 

Two 2019 MLS Super Draft picks also made their first competitive starts with the club as well, as Janos Loebe and Sean Nealis both started the game in the backfield alongside Tim Parker. Giving these two young players a chance to play alongside a solid defender like Parker is a great way to see how they perform in a game environment. Like Kaku, all three put in a half hour of play time before being subbed off in the 31st minute.

Also worth noting, recently signed Marcus Epps made his debut for the team after coming on as a sub in the 31st minute. The former Philly Union prospect was picked up in the 2019 Waiver Draft and had six goals in 2017-2018 spread across stints with both the Union and its USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel FC. He also played half an hour and in both halves before coming off in the 61st.

The Red Bulls will play two more games in Florida next week, taking on the Union on Jan. 30 in Clearwater before facing Orlando City on Feb. 2 back in Bradenton. The team will then depart for Tucson, AZ to take part in the Mobile Mini Sun Cup.

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