photo by Danny Wild/USA Today Sports
By FRANCO PANIZO
The New York Red Bulls might not want to talk much publicly about the Supporters’ Shield or MLS Cup, but make no mistake they know they are in prime position to make a run this year.
There are two months left in the MLS regular season, and the Red Bulls are already among the clubs in the conversation to finish with the best record and capture the Supporters’ Shield. New York currently sits at 12-7-6, which is worth 42 points and currently good enough for second place in the Eastern Conference.
Only two points separate the club from conference leader D.C. United, but a much wider six-point gap stands between the Red Bulls and current league leaders the Vancouver Whitecaps. Still, New York has three games in hand, and knows that making the most of them can put it in the driver’s seat for the league’s regular season crown and provide plenty of momentum going into the playoffs.
“Now’s the time to keep the foot on the gas and to go after it,” Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch told reporters on Thursday. “We’ve worked hard to put ourselves in a situation where we have a chance. We have a chance to make a run, and so we want to honor that.
“One of the first days we met this week, we said, ‘Wherever this fits in your life – I’m not saying that for each guy it’s the No. 1 thing in their lives because everybody has a lot going on with family and everything else – it’s got to be cranked up right now.’ It’s got to go up a notch and we all owe it to ourselves to give ourselves the best chance to really go after it.”
Marsch and his players have been pretty reluctant to this point in the year to talk about what lies ahead. The focus has always been on the task at hand, with the club taking things on a game-by-game basis.
With the season winding down, however, things are coming into focus. A second Supporters’ Shield trophy and high playoff seed are now realistically within reach, but the Red Bulls know they have to keep playing at a high level to remain in a good spot.
That starts with Friday night’s home game against the lowly Chicago Fire, who handed the Red Bulls a bitter 3-2 road defeat on Aug. 26.
“They have guys that make 1-on-1 plays and are every individualistic who like to take guys 1-on-1,” said midfielder Sacha Kljestan. “We have this thing we call ‘Rest Defense’ that when we’re attacking that we also know where their attacking players are and we are ready for any ball that turns over.
“Rest defense has to be very good and I think we’ll take care of business.”
The Red Bulls are coming off a bye while Chicago suffered a 4-3 loss to the Montreal Impact over the weekend before traveling to the New York area. Marsch’s side might be better-rested, but knows from experience that it cannot rest easy against the Fire.
Not if New York wants to come out on top on Friday and continue to make a run towards something special.
“I think it’s important that we play better against them than we did last time we played against them. It was a really frustrating performance” said Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty. “I thought we recovered well and put in a really good performance (in the ensuing 3-0 win vs. D.C. United), and we need to take that momentum into the Chicago game.”