Red Bulls on a Run Heading to Cincinnati

Photograph by Matt Kremkau

Red Bulls logoHARRISON, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls’ timing couldn’t be much better – at least in terms of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

The team has won seven of its last eight over all, nine of its last 11, and has outscored opponents 20-6 in its last six Major League Soccer matches, including rallying from an early deficit for a 3-1 victory over Orlando at Red Bull Arena on Saturday night.

That can only help heading into Tuesday night’s Cup semifinal against FC Cincinnati of the United Soccer League. Cincy dropped a 5-0 decision at Louisville City on Saturday night.

“Right now on this team, there’s been major momentum. I’ve been saying that for a while,” Coach Jesse Marsch said. “Yeah, there’s definitely I think an understanding on the field of how to play for each other, how to stick to the game, how to not worry too much, how to not panic.

“And then when things are going well, when we get lead, to not take anything for granted and stay on top of the details. The more that we do that, I think the better team we’re going to be.”

One player with more momentum than most is Bradley Wright-Phillips, whose team-leading 14th goal of the season Saturday night put the Red Bulls (12-9-2, 38 points) ahead, 2-1, in the 60th minute.

The winner Saturday was his fourth straight game with a goal, his fifth over four games and ninth over the last 10 games.

“I feel a lot healthier,” Wright-Phillips said. “I think since the Minnesota game [July 22], I really felt good, just fitness-wise. That can bring confidence, maybe, but I’m not sure really what it is. When they’re going in they’re going in. When they’re not they’re not.”

Then there are the youngsters, like Sean Davis, who added his second of the season in the 80th on a 25-yard bending strike; Alex Muyl, who muffed two chances in five minutes and then set up Wright-Phillips for his goal; or Tyler Adams, who had a first-half gaffe when he fell down at midfield as the last man that nearly resulted in a goal by Orlando’s Carlos Rivas. All are Homegrown Players.

Not only did Adams’ mistake not cost New York a goal, he overcame it with a play of at the other end where he beat Donny Toia one-on-one to the byline and whipped in a cross that Leo Pereira knocked into his own goal for 30th-minute equalizer.

Much has been made of the Red Bulls’ formation switch to a three-man back line with six midfielders deployed in two lines since mid-July – coinciding with their recent surge. But it doesn’t explain it all.

“When you start winning and you start getting on a run, confidence starts to get very high,” midfielder-captain Sacha Kljestan said. “We see a different Sean Davis now than we have early in the season. He’s been very key for us.

“I think Alex Muyl has done a very good job playing as one of the wing backs but also now as one of the interior midfielders now that Daniel Royer has been injured and you see guys like Gonzalo [Verón] who can still make a difference coming off the bench. A lot of guys. I could name every player on the roster that’s playing now than they were at the beginning of the season. “

It will all help when the team heads to Cincinnati for its fifth trip to the semifinals with a chance to return to the U.S. Open Cup final for the first time since 2003. The winner will play at Sporting Kansas City in late September.

“For us, it’s the biggest game of the year so far,” Davis said. “We’re a really confident group right now, but at the same time we don’t want to be complacent, and that’s one of the main talking points. We know that Cincinnati is a very good team. We know that their environment is an equalizer if not a huge advantage for them.”