The Red Bulls head into Saturday’s playoff game against San Jose as the favorites to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2000.
A decade ago, the Red Bulls had just won their first Eastern Conference title in franchise history. With last week’s 2-0 win over New England, they laid claim to conference title No. 2.
For a franchise that seems perpetually snakebitten, it has been a great season. The club’s third-best record in the league in 2010 is all the more impressive when stacked against their last-place finish a season ago.
“The key was the first six games, when we won five out of six and kept going. It’s phenomenal to get 30 points more than last season,” first-year head coach Hans Backe said. “I think, normally, you can’t see any team in the world double their points in one season, it’s impossible to do that.”
Now, a team that this time last year was hitting the beaches and the golf course has suddenly become a favorite to advance to the MLS Cup. With the most expensive payroll in the league coupled with the third oldest roster in MLS, New York now expects to challenge for the title. On Saturday, however, they will do so without star forward Thierry Henry, who has been sidelined for the better part of two weeks with a knee injury.
“He’ll train the whole weekend with his private coach, fitness coach,” Backe said of Henry.”And then we’ll try again with the ball on Monday. We’ll take it day by day.”