CINCINNATI–Everyone who puts on a New York Red Bulls shirt is more than aware of how empty the franchise’s trophy case is.
And over the past few years, the supporters of the club have been less than positive about the drought ever ending, but that could all change on Sept. 20 as the Red Bulls take on Sporting Kansas City in the U.S. Open Cup final.
The Red Bulls got over a massive hurdle on Tuesday night with their 3-2 extra time win over FC Cincinnati in the Open Cup semifinals, a match in which they came from behind after facing a two-goal deficit.
“It’s been a very long time,” Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips said. “I read things all the time that Red Bulls don’t win trophies or even some of the fans were saying we were going to choke when we get to the semifinals. It’s good to get over this hurdle here and prove to people that we’re learning and we’re getting better.”
The Red Bulls credit an improving mentality in the locker room, one both head Jesse Marsch and captain Sacha Kljestan feel is stronger than ever.
“We’ve had a good two-and-a-half years with this club,” Marsch said. “We’ve been successful. We’ve had a good run, but ultimately teams and players are judged by championships. That’s something that’s been barren at this club. When I was first brought in here I was asked to bring a championship environment and ultimately win championships. For us to take a huge step and get to a final is a big moment for us.
“The energy in the locker room and within the people in our club is at an all-time high,” Marsch added. “I think there’s almost disbelief. I’ve got to remind everybody that we’ve got more work to do, but the feeling right now is one of euphoria and we’re going to use this to continue to galvanize our team.”
“We have believe in each other,” Kljestan said. “We’ve found a system that works for us. Everybody’s bought into it. I think this is the most confident we’ve felt as a group in my two-and-a-half years here.”
The Red Bulls were left for dead 70 minutes into the game as they failed to find any source of attacking flair in the final third, but substitute Gonzalo Veron, a figure representing the club’s disappointment during his time at the club, produced a glimmer of hope in the 75th minute.
“Gonzalo and Derrick Etienne changed the game. That’s what (Gonzalo’s) job is, to come off the bench and help the team get something out of nothing and he did just that,” Wright-Phillips said. “If it wasn’t for that, we don’t come back at all. That’s the most important goal of the game.”
After Veron struck for the first Red Bulls goal of the game, the club’s prolific striker took over and scored on two occasions after he broke loose from some questionable marking by the Cincinnati defenders.
“Brad is on fire. This is nothing new,” Kljestan said. “Brad always seems to hit his stride in the second half of the season and the goals just start piling on. Nobody’s really talking about him because David Villa is on such a tear right now, but Brad has been hugely important for our club for four years and this season. Don’t be surprised if he sneaks up on them and wins the Golden Boot again. He’s huge for our team and he put in two amazing headers against two huge center backs from Cincinnati.”
Wright-Phillips has scored nine goals since the start of July in all competitions and Tuesday was his second two-goal performance in a big game, the last coming in the New York derby on August 6. The Englishman has no reasoning for hitting his stride late in the season, but with this year’s surge has come a killer mentality encouraged by Marsch.
“I’ve learned to try and take the chances I get. I used to squander a lot,” Wright-Phillips said. “I think tonight I squandered a couple, not easy chances, but I should’ve gotten them on target. Jesse, since he’s been here has challenged me to be the guy that if you get one chance, score it and if you get three chances, score them all. I’m still working on it. It’s a player I’m trying to transform into.”
Even though they are in the Open Cup final and have won five out of their last six games, Marsch feels like they aren’t getting all the respect they deserve, but he also admitted winning will only grab more eye balls.
“No one wants to give this group credit,” Marsch said. “No one wants to acknowledge that this is a good team, especially in the last two or three months and no one wants to tip their hat to what’s happening here at Red Bull. And the only way to force people’s hand is to win. We try to always let our work to do the talking and we’ve got one more really big step to put a stamp on a lot of things that have been done at Red Bull.”