The Longest (And Most Forgettable) Unbeaten Streak in Red Bulls History

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by DAVE MARTINEZ

Editorial – Hey, Red Bull fans. I’ve got a secret for you. The New York Red Bulls are riding a franchise best 12 match unbeaten streak in MLS regular season play (15 games unbeaten if you count all competitions!).

They haven’t lost since the first week of July and are tied for second place in the Eastern Conference, sitting just two points behind Toronto FC.

So why does it feel so gloomy in Harrison?

Despite their 5-0-7 record in their last 12 matches, the Red Bulls feel like a team in crisis. And rightfully so. The team has made a habit of conceding advantages.

And it hasn’t been just once or twice, either. New York’s inability to hold on to a lead — particularly on the road — has cast a negative light on an otherwise positive run of form.

Promise and disappointment have gone hand in hand for the Red Bulls this season. Recall last year’s form for a moment. The Red Bulls were a ruthless bunch, pressing the hell out of teams both at home and on the road, scoring goals in bunches. Their league-best 64 goals and an air-tight defense (recall Matt Miazga owning David Villa and Giovinco anyone?) made them a league juggernaut, earning New York key victories both home and away while leading them to a Supporters’ Shield trophy.

In short: they stayed hungry, maintained a healthy roster and struck fear into the hearts of opponents wheresoever they went.

That hasn’t been the story this year. While the defensive numbers are on track to equaling last year’s total, the Red Bulls have scored 52 goals this year through 30 matches. That’s 10 goals shy of last year’s mark, with four games to go. Take away the 7-0 win against New York City FC, and that number takes a more significant drop.

Moreover, their results haven’t been as definitive as they were last season. Through the team’s final 20 regular season encounters in 2015, the Red Bulls were 14-5-1 — an impressive run that led to their second Shield trophy in three seasons.While the team is having comparable success through the summer months, matches haven’t swayed the team’s way. Instead, draws have been the order of the day — and most have come while the team was ahead.

This is what has happened on their current 12-match unbeaten run (* signifies matches where the Red Bulls lost a lead.):

JULY 10: Red Bulls 0-0 Portland Timbers

A rather listless draw. Limited chances on both sides, with key saves from Luis Robles and Jake Gleeson.

JULY 13: RED BULLS 2-0 Orlando City

Connor Lade and Felipe push New York to victory in their home return.

(*) JULY 17: Red Bulls 2-2 Philadelphia Union

After a Sacha Kljestan brace put the team up in the first half, the Union rallied for two goals in two minutes just past the hour mark and held off New York for the draw.

JULY 24: RED BULLS 4-1 New York City FC

The Red Bulls take the Hudson River Derby to Red Bull Arena and avenge their 2-0 loss against their biggest rival. Bradley Wright-Phillips breaks his scoring schneid with a brace.

(*) JULY 31: Red Bulls 2-2 Chicago Fire

An own goal put New York on top mere minutes into the match, but Chicago came back for two. The inferior Fire nearly took the win — were it not for some extra time heroics from Bradley Wright-Phillips.

(*) AUGUST 7: Red Bulls 2-2 LA Galaxy

Gonzalo Veron and Sean Davis gave New York a 2-0 cushion with a pair of goals to start the second half, but a late match rally once again undid the Red Bulls efforts as Mike Magee and Ashley Cole found goals with 10 minutes to play.

AUGUST 13: RED BULLS 3-1 Montreal Impact

Bradley Wright-Phillips continues his hot form with a brace, leading New York past Montreal at home.

(*) AUGUST 21: Red Bulls 2-2 DC United

Once again, the Red Bulls surrender a two goal lead en route to a 2-2 draw at RFK. Marcelo Sarvas and Patrick Mullins lead the way for DC.

AUGUST 28: RED BULLS 1-0 New England Revolution

Who scored? You guessed it. Bradley Wright-Phillips puts New York up early in the second half and the Red Bulls hold on for the win.

SEPTEMBER 3: RED BULLS 1-0 Vancouver Whitecaps

Bradley Wright-Phillips puts New York up again, but honestly, the horrendous finishing of the Whitecaps attack — particularly Erik Hurtado — should get an assist in this road result.

(*) SEPTEMBER 11: Red Bulls 2-2 DC United

Veron and Wright-Phillips put New York up. And for 89 minutes, this one looked like a victory for the Red Bulls. But DC had other plans, finding two extremely late goals to take points at Red Bull Arena.

(*) SEPTEMBER 18: Red Bulls 3-3 Toronto FC

The Red Bulls were not only up a pair of goals early against Toronto — they actually enjoyed two separate two goal leads in this match. And still, they managed to leave the door open just enough for Jozy Altidore to make them pay.

Unbeaten? Yes. Dominant? Not even close.

Keep in mind: New York were 18-10-6 last season. This year (12-9-9), they have already surpassed their draw total from last season, are one loss from equaling their mark for defeat and are mathematically incapable of matching their 2015 win total.

Draws — or rather, late game collapses — make all the difference. Look at this recent 12-match unbeaten run and you will understand why Red Bull fans are concerned. Of their seven draws, New York lost the lead in five — four of which were of the two goal variety. In fact, they lost a two goal lead TWICE against Toronto FC just one week ago!

And the trend has been the same all season long:

Yes — they have only lost once since June 15 — but they aren’t winning matches outright. This year, the club is more tentative. Whether by design or due to a lack of execution, the Red Bulls have not displayed the same kind of efficiency and relentlessness that came to define the team under Jesse Marsch last season.

In short, they are less cut-throat and more preservationist. And it is costing them points.

How you process all of this information really depends on your point of view. An optimist would argue there is nothing to worry about. The team hasn’t lost in nearly three months, are in excellent position to finish atop the Eastern Conference, will likely qualify in a good spot for the postseason — and oh, by the way — what good did a Supporters’ Shield do in either of the team’s recent playoff runs anyway?

A more critical eye will see New York’s current form as a sign of danger. After all, the run up to the MLS Cup is usually dominated by teams that finish the regular season on a hot run of form. Ask the LA Galaxy — they invented the blueprint! Though unbeaten, the Red Bulls penchant for conceding leads is exactly the kind of result that can end their Cup dreams early — not the precedent you want to set for the playoffs.

This week, Jesse Marsch has made it a point to not only acknowledge the team’s odd run of form — but accept responsibility for his role in the results as well. Will that change anything? Who knows. Marsch has been married to his high press and the majority of his starters for the better part of two years. I wouldn’t expect drastic change — especially with the postseason just four matches away.

The Red Bulls boss is in an unenviable position. Not only will he be expected to buck this road trend, but he will also need to do so with a defense that continues to lose quality defenders to injury. On top of that, there are built-in expectations for this season from the passionate Red Bull fanbase. You don’t win two Supporters’ Shields in three years and make an Eastern Conference Finals appearance to boot, only to take an early exit in the postseason.

Make no mistake — it’s MLS Cup or bust.

Lucky for them, a three game homestand separates the team from their final match of the season – a road encounter against Philadelphia. New York loves playing at home (10-2-2). That is perhaps the best medicine they could ask for in this trying time — friendly confines to put a positive twist on this underwhelming unbeaten run.

But will positive results be enough to chase away the stench from this litany of draws? Further, will a bit of home momentum carry them through a tough road fixture?

If you are the Red Bulls, you’d better hope so.