The New York Red Bulls returned to training today after two days off following the final match of the season at Montreal. The lopsided loss stoked frustration amongst the Red Bull fans, but has often been the case this season, the internal response has been positive.
Needing a win in hopes to host a playoff match, the Red Bulls fell well short of the mark, losing 3-0 to the Impact. Chris Armas, understandably, is ready to put the focus to the match ahead.
“It’s behind us already. It’s behind us,” said Armas following training Wednesday afternoon. “A bunch of our guys went off into international duty, and guys came in today, after a couple of days off, and got right back to work. Looking ahead. Full steam ahead. Excited for the playoffs. Excited for a new season right now. We’ll take it game by game, but it’s good to get back to work with these guys.”
The Red Bulls do have some reason to be optimistic. With the exception of their poor performance in Montreal, the Red Bulls finished the season well, including a three match shutout streak. Against the other teams in the Eastern Conference bracket, the Red Bulls hold a 5-4-3 record with a +2 goal differential.
In fact, with the exception of the New England Revolution, the Red Bulls have a win over each of the teams in the Eastern Conference bracket. However, all of their wins came at home against those teams. The only exception is D.C. United.
“I know how we feel,” said Armas. “If you take out New England, and if we play them we’ll host that game, but everyone else in our conference we’ve beaten, and a few of the teams left haven’t beaten us this year, Atlanta, and D.C. But Philadelphia, we’ve had some good games with them, and we’ve beaten them. New York City, the same. So this group feels confident that whoever we play, we can win.”
Playing the underdog and finding motivation
Entering the playoffs with relatively low expectations, the Red Bulls find themselves in a position they haven’t occupied in a few seasons, the ‘Underdog’. FiveThirtyEight gives the Red Bulls a 1% chance of winning MLS Cup.
As Jim Carrey famously said in ‘Dumb and Dumber’, “So you’re saying there’s a chance!”
To defy expectations, the Red Bulls have to complete a difficult schedule, perfectly executing on the road, consistently, something they have struggled to do this season. A win against Philadelphia likely pits the Red Bulls on a road that includes Atlanta United and New York City FC. Confidence alone will not get the job done, but according to Armas they have it in abundance.
“It gives me and these guys a lot of confidence that when we bring our good stuff, it is a lot of fun to be part of and it is hard to play against,” said Armas. “How do you push the button to make sure that is the version you get on the day, which requires concentration, alertness, energy, and sticking to what we want to do and who we are. That’s always a question. I don’t think it’s a magic button because we know how to get there.”
With the new single elimination playoff format, the Red Bulls can create their own luck in the post season. Sometimes that comes down to who is the best team on the day, and sometimes it comes down to which team wants it more. Armas credits the players will to compete as a main driving factor, which could provide the edge they need to overcome their decades long playoff futility.
“Listen, there’s just levels. We watch in training our guys compete. Everything is usually involving competition. And the internal competition in our team is strong. The guys are pros, and there are a lot of perfectionists out there. They are always trying to be the best they can be. No matter which way you spin it, it’s always guys competing to outdo their last performance, be the best they can be, or trying to get on the field or in the 18. We’re all competitors, but so is the opposition. That becomes on the day, how strong is your will. It’s always hard to ramp it up and hit that standard. That’s always a challenge. There’s always little factors there. In Seattle you go down a goal, in Portland you go up a goal in the first three minutes, and does that change things? Our guys will be ready to throw everything at Philly, and Philly will be ready. We’ll enjoy that, and we’ll want it that way.”
Last week, Brian White returned to the field, but two other troubling injuries occurred.
First, Marc Rzatkowski was removed from the match day squad against Montreal for an unspecified injury. Armas indicated it was an issue with his hamstring, but not a cause for longterm concern.
“He has some tightness in his hamstring. Much more minor than Kyle Duncan. He’ll be considered for sure for the game. We’ll have to see how he comes along. As we shut things down for a few days, he’s feeling really good. We can expect him to be available.”
Duncan left the match after suffering an injury in the buildup to Montreal’s first goal. Duncan’s loss is especially troubling considering the right back’s recent run of form. While Armas didn’t sound overly optimistic Duncan would be back quickly, he did indicate that the injury is not as bad as initially feared.
“The hamstring is a little bit tricky. You don’t always know how long it is going to be,” Armas updated. “It seems to be mild and he is feeling pretty good. We’re hopeful that he will be ready, and we’ll give him every chance to be ready. We’ll take it from there. With an explosive guy like Kyle, you have to be smart about how you bring him along but he’s looking mostly pretty good right now, but again, we know these hamstrings are tricky.”
Photo by Bill Twomey Photography