Photo by ISIphotos.com
By DYLAN BUTLER
Juan Pablo Angel doesn’t remember much about his first MLS playoff experience. He suffered a concussion early in the second half of a tight Eastern Conference Semifinal Series last year at Gillette Stadium and didn’t see the Revs score the winner before then-Red Bulls coach Bruce Arena could bring on a substitute for the forward.
“I don’t try to look back much,” Angel said. “That’s part of the history that is gone and what’s going to happen this Saturday is the most important game of the season.”
Angel is looking to write a new story starting today against Houston (4pm, MSG), a story that is common in American sports. He is leading the heavy underdog into the playoffs against the two-time defending champions. Few outside of the Red Bulls locker room give the team a chance.
“I don’t pay much attention to what people expect or think of us,” he said. “What I do think is everybody has the same chances as we have. It’s basically up to us to prove people wrong.”
Angel also doesn’t place much worth in the Red Bulls’ 3-0 victory against the Dynamo at Giants Stadium on Aug. 24.
“I don’t like to look back to those games because I think it’s a completely different ballgame than the one we’re going to face this weekend,” Angel said. “This is a team that has been together for a long time so I think we’re going to face a completely different opponent than the one we faced a couple of months ago.”
It’s understandable why Angel doesn’t want to look into the past because the franchise doesn’t exactly have a rich history of playoff success. The Red Bulls have been ousted in the first round of the playoffs in each of the last five years — its lone playoff win was in 2005 — and you have to go back to 2000 for the last time, and first time, the Red Bulls won a playoff series.
“We have 180 minutes to play for and the first 90 starts on Saturday,” Angel said. “In an ideal world you would like to get a good advantage at home so you’re in good shape when you go to Houston.”
That is especially important considering the Red Bulls woeful road form this year – they have one win in 15 games away from home and Houston is one of two teams with just one home loss. A good result at home Saturday afternoon is an absolute must if they have any hope of advancing to the Western Conference Final.
“We’ve matched up well against them in the past and I think we can do that again on Saturday,” Andrew Boyens said. “It’s not too long ago we beat them 3-0 at home and that will be fresh in their minds and it’s fresh in our minds. We need to go out there and do the same things we did that game.”
In that game, Dane Richards torched Wade Barrett down the right sideline for a goal and an assist and Angel and Mike Magee also put the ball past Pat Onstad inside of an hour. It was the Red Bulls’ third straight victory at home and they did it without three key starters, as Jeff Parke was injured, Gabriel Cichero was suspended and Jorge Rojas was back in Venezuela because of visa issues.
Three months later, the Red Bulls are again without key starters as Jon Conway and Parke are both suspended and Seth Stammler had season-ending knee surgery Thursday night.
“We’re really confident, we beat them before,” Richards said. “But this is a playoff and they’re going to think they’re better in the playoffs. Everybody thinks they’re going to be performing better.”