Neither in Slump, Nor Streak, Red Bulls Enter Critical Week

Photograph by Matt Kremkau

Red Bulls logoThree straight draws – two on the road – is hardly a slump, but it’s certainly not the streak the New York Red Bulls want to be on heading into a week where they’re sitting in the last playoff berth in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference and playing in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final for only the second time in club history.

“I think we’ve had a few different games lately that have pushed us in different directions,” Red Bulls midfielder and captain Sacha Kljestan said. “I still think that the team has confidence, but three draws in a row is always a little bit boring.

“You would hope for more, but I guess you would also say, before a game against Chicago and Dallas on the road that if you could get a draw you’d probably take it, so, I think we’re all right.”

Nobody seems satisfied with “all right” as the Red Bulls (12-10-5, 41 points) faces Philadelphia (8-12-8, 32) at home on Sunday. New York is in sixth place in the East, five points ahead of Montreal, with seven games remaining. It’s a point behind fifth-place Atlanta, which has a game in hand, but two points behind fourth-place Columbus, with two games in hand.

Additionally, the Red Bulls’ four-game winless run, which also includes a 2-0 loss to Portland on Aug. 18, comes after a streak when they lost only 1 of 9 and 2 of 12 stretching into late June.

Complicating attempts to restart the team’s winning ways is Wednesday’s Open Cup final against at Sporting Kansas City. Coach Jesse Marsch will have to make decisions on personnel reconciling form and MLS playoff position with a chance to win only the third trophy in club history.

“We know it’s a big one on Sunday because when you play at home in this last stretch you got to try to take three points every time,” Kljestan said. “And then knowing that on Wednesday we’re playing for a trophy, which this club hasn’t done very often in the past. So we know that this is a big deal this week.”

At least the club will have Sean Davis available after sitting out last week’s draw in Chicago with accumulated yellow cards. It’s also possible that it will have back Daniel Royer, who missed the last five games with a hyperextended knee and bone bruising.

And while the Red Bulls are aware of their record of not only getting to a mere two cup finals (2003 U.S. Open Cup and 2008 MLS Cup) in thier 22-year history, but also losing both, it also doesn’t want to be looking past Philadelphia.

“If you ask any player, these are the kind of games you want to play in, the important ones,” Davis said referring to Wednesday’s Open Cup final. “We can’t overlook Philly at all, because we know how tight the East is and we know how difficult an opponent Philly is.

“We need to go into that game with the right mentality, without a doubt. And that’s been our focus this week is to take it one game at a time. We’re going to focus on Philly first and then, after that, we have a huge game against Kansas City. We’re trying not to look too far ahead, but it is a really big week for us.”

And then when those two games are done, there is the fourth-place Crew in Columbus next Saturday.