Throughout this season, the New York Red Bulls have been contenders for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Their performance and record have put them in the conversation for the Supporters Shield and, of course, the MLS Cup as well. And why not? The team currently boasts the league’s largest salary base featuring some of Major League Soccer’s most renown footballers.
Despite all of that, it took a Columbus Crew loss at RFK Stadium to back New York into the postseason; a criticism that rang through the Red Bulls locker room mere moments after the result was announced. The fact that they can only advance as high as third in the conference after controlling their destiny for long stretches of the season only cast a further damaging light on their accomplishment.
No matter the circumstances, New York hardly feels like a team gifted a postseason berth.
“You know what? It’s performances like (Saturday’s 0-0 draw with Kansas City) that make me think we are not backing into it,” midfielder Dax McCarty firmly stated.
“Ya, we are not in the best seeding position right now but I don’t care. The locker room mentality is we don’t care who we play. We don’t care if we were on the road or at home. Obviously we prefer to be at home because I think we play much better at home like any team does but at the end of the day, you make the playoffs, you get your chance to make a run and this team can certainly can do some damage.
“We don’t look at it as backing in,” he continued. “We look at it as a performance we can build off of and hopefully we can get a win in Philly and then we can go from there.”
Never one to mince words, Thierry Henry was even more direct about the team’s playoff qualification.
“We are in and that’s it,” he flat-panned. “We are not going to go to Philly thinking that’s it, we are in the playoffs and lets whatever. We know how much it means to the fans when we play Philly, especially away, and I know how much it means to them especially when we play there.
“The only thing you know is you made it – nothing more, nothing less. I am not trying to play it down, but at the end of the day, that’s what it is.
“We have our ups and downs since the beginning of the season but like I said to you, forget about the result,” he continued. “It’s more about the way we played tonight. We looked pretty confident at times and not in danger. That’s one of the most important things sometimes when you play a game and that’s very reassuring. Hopefully we can carry on this way.”
As it stands, the Red Bulls can qualify as high as third with a win at Philadelphia and either a Chicago win or draw against DC United. Even if DC won their match, New York would have to maintain their current goals advantage to draw ahead of them. If they cannot beat Philadelphia, New York will be relegated to a one off wild-card match as the fourth seed.
“It’s been so tight and of course it would have been nice to have 58, 59 points,” Coach Backe said. “But I think if you look I think 2010, we won the Eastern Conference on 50, 51 points or something like that. There are two more teams now but we can also look at the Western Conference, you can probably get the fifth spot around 43, 44 points. Here you probably need 53, 54 points.
“We’ve had our ups and downs but we know what we have to do. We probably need to win away in Philly too. But I’m pleased with (Saturday’s) performance. I’m not disappointed that we are in this position.”