One would expect the New York Red Bulls to be riding quite a high after coming back from a two goal deficit to earn three points at home against Portland last week, but nothing can be further from the truth.
“Speaks to the mentality of the group,” Dax McCarty said. “We won the game, we are undefeated at home but we are not satisfied. That is something that has to be the case if we want to win a Championship. We are hungry, but we aren’t just hungry to win, but we are hungry to play well and do it the right way which is a mentality that every player has adopted since the season started. Its not just good enough for us anymore to get three points. It’s a team mentality.
“When we get three points we want to do it outplaying the other team.”
If New York looks to succeed in this Sunday’s first place clash against Sporting KC, they will have to fight back their own personal disappointment from last weeks match, solve their defensive issues, beat back their road woes and deal with the loss of Thierry Henry who has left the team to be with his new born child.
And that won’t be an easy task.
“Its going to be a test for us,” McCarty said. “We’ve been good on the road in the beginning of the season and not so good on the road towards the end of the season. We need to fix that. Going on the road is very difficult in this league for whatever reason. The fan support in MLS in general has really risen and given teams a home field advantage and confidence to get a result at home.
“Against KC, they play a 4-3-3 and are very strong out wide and on set pieces, getting balls in the box. We have to make sure defensively we stay with our runners. We have to make sure on set pieces we know our assignments because that’s where they really, really hurt you. Their pressure defensively is tough. We have to make sure we are good on the ball and if we lose the ball too quickly, they are going to come back and jam it down our throat.”
“It will be a tough one,” Red Bulls boss Hans Backe acknowledged. “They are two points in front of us, home game, but we definitely can raise our level and performance.
“Defending wise, I mean, if we look at the last four, five away games, the teams have had too many free runners. You can allow one per game perhaps, but we average three and that’s too much. In this league, what I’ve learned is when you play on the road, its all about the first 60 minutes, have a clean sheet, and then you can win it.”
Only four other teams have given up as many goals as the Red Bulls have this year – Toronto FC (45), Montreal Impact (44), Portland Timbers (42) and the LA Galaxy (40). The team is 2-2 in their last four games, and have earned a shutout in that time, but allowed eight goals in the other three encounters.
It wasn’t just Backe and the players noting the team’s defensive issues. Sporting Director Erik Soler also condemned the recent play of his side. “If we continue to let a team like Portland – nothing wrong with Portland, but obviously they had scored four away goals before they came to our arena, I don’t think we can win,” Soler said. “I think we need to sort that out. You can’t expect us to score three goals every game to win a game, and especially if you go away for the playoffs, you can’t let two, three goals in. It’s too hard.
“The way I look at it, our biggest problem has been able to be compact enough. You saw it against Portland. I don’t know if there were four or five times where they were one-v-one with our goalkeeper. That cannot happen. That’s not good.”
Meanwhile, Kansas City has been stellar on the defensive side while not as explosive offensively. They currently lead the league with an anemic 22 goals against while possessing the second fewest goals for amongst playoff teams (Vancouver holds that distinction with 28). Much like the Red Bulls over-reliance on the offensive side, KC is buoyed by a stingy defense led by MLS All-Star Aurelien Collin.
All stats aside, McCarty feels this is the time for New York to make a statement.
“When you get to the point that three points is not enough anymore, we want to make sure we are playing well too. When it comes down to crunch time, when it comes down to the playoffs, if you aren’t playing at full cylcinder, at your full potential, you are going to lose.”