In a season where the Curse of Caricola was broken, the Red Bulls are setting out to break what might perhaps be a new curse: the postseason curse of Red Bull Arena.
Since moving into Red Bull Arena in 2010, the franchise has never won a playoff game in their comfortable confines, let alone register a single result at home. The Red Bulls’ last home playoff win came Oct. 22, 2005 in a 1-0 win over New England, a game played at cavernous Giants Stadium.
The lack of results at home explains why the Red Bulls have never won the MLS Cup.
“I honestly want to know, and please raise your hand here, does anyone believe in a curse? Seriously? Does anyone believe in exorcising? I think it’s hilarious,” head coach Mike Petke said. “I know it’s a question we have to ask and I know it makes a great headline. I said it yesterday, I said it last week, this is not last year’s team, this is not the previous year’s team — far from it. What happens tomorrow night has nothing to do with a curse or anything but us getting ourselves prepared for that game. At the end of the day, I have confidence in my guys.”
The team has had unparalleled success over the previous three years, including winning the Eastern Conference in their inaugural season at Red Bull Arena and making the postseason each season.
But playoff success has been hard to come by for the franchise. Over the past three seasons, the team is a cumulative 2-4-1 and has never advanced beyond the conference semifinals. And of course, they’ve never won a home playoff game.
As Eastern Conference champions in 2010, the Red Bulls rode a goal by midfielder Joel Lindpere to an opening leg, 1-0 win at San Jose. Then everything fell apart at the home leg when they lost 3-1. There is hope it might change this season, when the Red Bulls not only won the Eastern Conference but finished atop all of MLS for the first time in franchise history. The resulting trophy broke the so-called curse of Nicola Caricola, whose infamous own goal decided the team’s first ever match.
With an American head coach — the past three years the team was guided by Swede Hans Backe — the emphasis has been on finding consistency throughout the regular season and not just catching fire in the postseason.
Petke is counting on that form carrying over to the playoffs. A 2-2 draw in the first leg on Sunday makes Wednesday’s second leg the all-important decider.
“You can take away from this what you want: I feel like our team has been prepared this year both tactically — both mentally and physically — better than any team I’ve been a part of,” Petke said. “Read between the lines on that. I’m not going to point to last year and say out of my mouth that we weren’t prepared. But maybe I am saying that with my answer. You read between the lines. My team is prepared.”
Follow Red Bulls beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.