WHIPPANY, N.J. — The sun beat down on the New York Red Bulls training facility on Thursday as Carlos Coronel spent the morning preparing as most MLS keepers do for a vital weekend game. He worked with his goalkeeping coach, diving, saving, and shot-stopping. As the morning session winded down, he practiced kick outs on grass so well manicured, they rival the greens at the nearby Baltusrol Golf Club.
By the time he reached the touchline, he was clearly fatigued from two hours in the midday heat. The Brazilian threw off his gloves, wiping the sweat from his hands, and stopped to fix his feathery bleach-blonde hair.
Bending down from his 6-foot-4 perch to loosen the laces on his boots, he stressed the teams need to maintain the form they’ve found recently.
The Red Bulls made the Round of 16 of the Leagues Cup with Coronel saving a late penalty in the final game of group-stage action against Mexican side San Luis to remain in the tournament. They picked up a win against local rivals NYCFC in the Round of 32 but were eventually knocked out by the Philadelphia Union.
“We need to play the same game that we played throughout the Leagues Cup,” Coronel said through a translator. “Because we proved our quality. If we prove in this game that we’re playing and improving, then we’re going to be 100%.”
Entering Sunday night’s match against DC United, the Red Bulls sat in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, two spots off the Final Series playoffs. With 11 fixtures left to play, every match will be crucial if they are to achieve their goal of making the playoffs.
The former FC Red Bulls Salzburg goalie has conceded just two goals in his last four matches and with it, has become an important presence in the locker room. His new manager, Troy Lesesne praised Coronel for the leadership he’s shown throughout his third season in New York.
“My leadership is more vocal,” Coronel said. “We have a young group so communication is very important to keep improving and adjust the little details.”
Lesesne took up the role as head coach in May after the parting of ways with Gerhard Struber and has done well to stabilize the ship, going 8-5-5 in 18 games.
“He’s brought back confidence to the group and made a more healthy environment,” Coronel said. “Now, we just need to keep trusting him and keep this confidence growing because it’s not linear.”
Confidence will be paramount when they face Lionel Messi — an icon of Coronel’s growing up in Brazil — on Aug. 26 at Red Bull Arena.
The 26-year-old now faces the task of keeping a clean sheet against the man he dreamt about sharing the pitch with. With some tickets reportedly costing $10,000, (h/t bloomberg.com) the prospect of Messi making his MLS debut in New York promises to be a memorable event for both fans and players alike.
For most goalkeepers, Inter Miami’s new signing provides a unique challenge.
“Of course, it’s a dream, I think for every single player to play against Messi or with him,” Coronel said. “In my case, play against. I’m going to do everything in my power to avoid (goals) but we know that Messi is a fantastic player. What he’s been doing in these last few games … we’re going to do everything to stop him.”