Notebook: Red Bulls Look to Flip the Script in Playoffs

Photograph by Matt Kremkau

Red Bulls logoWHIPPANY, N.J. — Not by design or by desire, the New York Red Bulls involuntarily flipped the script in their 2017 Major League Soccer regular season.

After finishing in first place in 2015 and 2016, then exiting the playoffs unceremoniously (in the conference finals and the semifinals), the Red Bulls this year are locked into the No. 6 seeding in the conference. And if spin can win MLS Cup, then the Red Bulls believe they have what it takes to win the first league championship in club history.

“We obviously wish we had more points and put ourselves in a little bit better spot to have a home game or a high seed,” Coach Jesse Marsch said after training. “At the same time, we’ve been there and done that the last two years and it hasn’t fared well for us.”

In 2015, New York was ousted by Columbus one step from the final; in 2016 the Red Bulls were sent packing in the semifinals by Montreal.

On Sunday, the club closes out the regular season with a chance to take home the Atlantic Cup for the fifth time in eight years if it can defeat last-place D.C. United in what is likely to be the final MLS game at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium (kickoff scheduled for 4:20 p.m.; coverage on MSG begins at 3:30 p.m.). D.C., which plans to move into a new stadium sometime next season, has nothing to play for while the Red Bulls will have to wait for other results to determine the opponent in the play-in game (away either next Wednesday or Thursday).

The opponent could be any of four teams — New York City FC, Chicago, expansion Atlanta or Columbus. The playoff possibilities are here.

Felipe, who has started all 33 regular-season matches this year and played in 193 of a possible 203 games over six years, said he is itching to face the Red Bulls’ local rival. And don’t forget that the Brazilian midfielder has guaranteed a championship.

“Yes, NYC, we want to play them,” he said. “It would be great for fans for us to play against a team that is a rival. We want to play the best teams we can play and they are one of them. We want to show how good we are and move forward in a good direction.”

While Marsch said that he plans to rest many of his starters, Felipe said “I want to play and play every game, 100 percent. We want to keep the momentum going.”

New York has only one win in its past 10 games (1-3-6), but has shut out the opposition in its last two.

We had a little lull in September but October looks promising,” the rookie defender Aaron Long said. “I think we’ve found our stride and we’re looking to build on that.”

Looking ahead to the postseason, Marsch said: “We know first knockout game will be tough, but I really feel if can get that game under us and survive and gain momentum we’ll feel strong with a young team that’s fearless and doesn’t have as high expectations. We’ve got, in some ways, nothing to lose. Why not go out give everything we have, go after the game in a big way, do everything it takes to get the win and then, all of a sudden, we have a home game and you can really start to feel like we’re on top of things. Im kind of excited for playoffs and think we’re poised to go after it in a big way.”

Marsch on Player Development

With the failure of the United States national team to qualify for next year’s World Cup and some of the focus placed on player development, Marsch was asked last week about the role of an MLS club in the matter:

“This is an interesting time in our sport in our country, isn’t it? There’s a lot of opinions flying around. We all feel incredibly sickened by not being in the World Cup. Certainly we have to take a look at, from a global perspective, how we develop talent, and then how we supplement that talent into the different levels of play, whether it’s the first team, whether it’s the youth national teams or whether it’s the club teams.

“I can talk about what we believe in here. What we believe in here is that, first of all, we work as a unit. We are all together, all the time. We’re all-in. we’re one team. we’re one voice. That is the starting point, always. Always.

“You want to talk about details of player development, you want to talk about details
of mentality or what it means to be on a national team or whatever else, but it starts with having unity within the organization.

“Then, we love our young players. We love our young players, and we love to develop them. We love to teach them to play our style. We like them to be aggressive. We want them to be rewarded for their aggression, for their commitment and you see that in our system, players develop. Period.

“You could go back to the first year with Matt Miazga, you could go through Alex Muyl and Sean Davis, you could go through Aaron Long, you could go through Tyler Adams, you can look at the way that we use our second team, Red Bull II, you can look at the way we’re forming our academy. And we believe in it wholeheartedly and this is our identity and we love it. We love who we are. We love committing to this all the way.

“I think it helps the players to know that there’s an identity in place, that they can understand how they want to play. They also know that they have a chance. If you’re a young player in this organization, you have a chance. So yeah, I think everybody here is excited about our identity and how we do things and I do think in the long run, it we will benefit U.S. Soccer, because we will build young players, we will make them better, and ultimately then we’ll put them to the test in their national stage. I can’t wait to see Tyler Adams’ first cap. Can’t wait. Can’t wait.”

Marsch might not have to wait too long. The U.S. is scheduled to play Portugal in a friendly in early November and Adams, who starred for the U.S. at the FIFA U-20 World Cup recently, is likely to earn his first senior team cap.

Notes

Aurelien Collin was expected to train with the team on Wednesday, but was excused because of illness. Coach Jesse Marsch said that Collin would be on the field on Thursday … Connor Lade, who left last Sunday’s game with an injury, did some fitness work but did not participate in training. He, too, was expected to train fully on Thursday, but is likely he will sit out Sunday’s match. … Asked about the potential move of the Columbus Crew to Austin, Tex., for the 2019 season, Marsch said: “It’s hard for me to figure out from afar whether it’s a high-stakes bluff or a possibility. I think a of city like Austin having a team is exciting, but Columbus has been a hallmark of the league, with a soccer-specific stadium, a big national team venue, great fans. On those levels I’d hate to see them leave. But that’s sort of the nature of sports these days.”