HANOVER, N.J. – After twice winning the Supporters Shield over the past four years for the best regular season record in the league, the New York Red Bulls have their sites set on a first-ever MLS Cup. This, they say, is the ultimate goal, even if it comes at the expense of the regular season success they’ve enjoyed the past few seasons.
The twice-defending Eastern Conference champions currently sit in the sixth and final playoff spot in the conference. What is discouraging, however, is that they are ninth in the conference in points per game, having played more contests than several other conference foes. There’s no way around it as the Red Bulls are off to a sluggish start and don’t look like the team of past years that have enjoyed strong regular season successes.
It is a younger team with several fresh faces in the Starting XI, something that head coach Jesse Marsch said will pay dividends to come playoff time. A team that has faced postseason disappointment the past two years wants to break-through in October and November and land their first-ever MLS Cup title.
“I think, if we were just to look at this overall, that going into this year we made some changes. We knew that we were going to go with some youngers guys, we knew that at the beginning of the season it might be a bumpy road. That’s proven the case, I think we all could see that was forecast. I also think that we can give some of these younger players some bigger experiences so come the end of the year, they’re really ready for some huge challenges. Ultimately that’s what this year is, we’ve got to find ways to grow every day. It’s no different than any year but this sense, when you have a younger group, you have to have a little more patience but continue to build the process the right way and build the momentum to be the kind of team you want to be at the end of the year,” Marsch said.
“With some of the changes we made, we knew that maybe some regular season goals wouldn’t be as attainable as they were in the years past. But everything that we’re doing right now is with an eye towards the ultimate championship. That’s what this club needs and that’s where we need to go.”
It is quite an admission from Marsch, who acknowledges that perhaps the regular season accolades he has accrued the past two seasons aren’t the focus this year. What is clear, however, is that the team as it stands might not be good enough to make the playoffs let alone talk about MLS Cup.
They need additions, a top-rated centerback a priority as is another attacking piece. The summer transfer window is here and the Red Bulls appear to be closing in on targets on both counts.
All of which means that the Red Bulls might be willing to sacrifice the regular season to the soccer gods if it means peaking heading into the postseason.
“You could break it down [that way]. Obviously, it’d be nice to win everything all the time. But I think in the end, frankly what we just think is most important is finding a way to be the best during the biggest games of the year,” Marsch said.
“We’ll use the transfer window to figure out how to continue building this team. We’ll continue to take the pieces we have here and get better every day.”
The Red Bulls lone appearance in MLS Cup was in 2008, a final which they lost to the Columbus Crew.
– Centerback Aurélien Collin did some fitness work on Thursday but was not integrated into the soggy day of training. This Saturday against the New England Revolution at Red Bull Arena is too soon for a comeback as Marsch said that the defender “will not be ready for this weekend.”
– Part of the Red Bulls youth movement is 18-year old Tyler Adams, away with the national team for the U-20 World Cup. Thursday’s 1-0 win over Senegal was another standout performance for Adams, who started a second straight game in central midfield for the baby national team.
“This morning, I just had a big smile on my face watching him go after the game and be brave against a strong Senegal team – never backed down and cover ground and help put plays together and defend and lead his team,” Marsch said. “He’s a leader out there, it’s amazing to watch one of the youngest guys be a true leader out there.”