The month of October is going to be big for the New York Red Bulls organization. Both the Major League Soccer and USL Championship postseasons set to begin and many players kitting up for national team play during the upcoming international break.
This has not been a perfect season for RBNY in MLS. The team that won the Supporters’ Shield in 2018 and reach the Eastern Conference Finals will be entering the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs as a sixth seed. Of the 14 teams in the postseason, the Bulls rank 13th in terms of points with 48 with a record of 14-14-6, close to a .500 record.
Sunday’s Decision Day result did little to quiet fan’s worries, as the 3-0 road loss to the already eliminated Montreal Impact crushed any hope the team had of hosting a playoff game in the first round. The lack of meaningful chances, poor defense, and issues making long passes gave the team little wiggle room when the Impact began to push.
“There’s not even much to look at from this game, to think about or to talk about,” Head coach Chris Armas said after the game in a press conference. “Onto the playoffs.”
D.C. United’s draw with the bottom table FC Cincinnati would have assured New York of the fourth seed above both United and Toronto FC. The team will now travel south to Chester, PA and face off against the third seed Philadelphia Union in the first round.
The over-simplified reason for the struggle; personal and players. When the team lost Tyler Adams to Bundesliga side Germany RB Leipzig, which is under the Red Bull umbrella, someone needed to fill that set-up man role in the midfield. While signees like international Marc Rzatkowski and homegrown Omir Fernandez have played well, the switch styles haven’t been a smooth process. The early-season struggles, including one win in the first seven games, was a product of this.
As time went on, and with stars like Bradley Wright-Phillips out with injury, Armas switched things up and players like Daniel Royer and Brian White began to find success up-front. The duo combined for 20 of the team’s 53 goals this season. In total, 18 different players have scored at least one goal this season for New York, both a new team and league record.
For his part, Armas ends his first full season as the Red Bulls head coach with the team’s tenth consecutive trip to the postseason.
While the Bulls are still entering the postseason on a downer note, going scoreless in its final two games and ending the regular season by winning only two of its final seven games (earning seven of a possible 21 points), the first round is going to be against a familiar foe.
Team captain Luis Robles said after the regular-season finale that despite the struggles, his team can perform under the playoff spotlight against some of the east’s best.
“We know that when we play the way that we want to play, and we put the game on our terms, we can beat anyone,” Robles told Fox Sports on Sunday night in Montreal. “When I think about the season and some of the (teams) that we’ve played in the east, we’ve had a lot of success against some of the top teams and Philly is one of those teams.
“We like the match-up. I know we’re excited for the postseason because really now is when we have an opportunity to show this organization and this league what we’re made of.”
New York split the home-away series against Philly in 2019, giving up a two-goal lead in the second half and falling 3-2 in early June before holding the Union scoreless, 2-0, in the penultimate home game of the season back on September 22.
All four goals were scored by different players during the series as well. Royer and White both scored in separate games, while Tom Barlow and Kaku rounded out the scoring respectively.
Philly has had a tremendous turnaround season in its own right, from never finishing above sixth place since 2012 to climbing the tabling and winning a club-best 16 games.
Forward Kacper Przybyłko has been a huge part of the Union’s offense, scoring 15 goals in league play (the sixth most in MLS) on a team that scored when it needs to this season. Twelve of the team’s games have either been won by a single goal or ended in a 1-1 draw. The Union’s defense has let up a fair share of goals, 50, but has scored just as many, 55, to get them where they are today.
To that extent, the Union can be beaten. New York has struggled to come back from deficits but even if the team goes down it could come back against a Union side that isn’t unfamiliar with allowing opposing offenses in. Late game surges with fresh feet, which might be BWP or Alex Muyl, can be the biggest factor in this game.
However, the team will have some time to wait until then. Kickoff for the MLS Cup Playoff match is set for 3 PM on Sunday, October 20.
Until then, fans will have the closing two matches of RBNY II’s regular season and international games to hold them over.