(Red Bulls celebrate an early goal – Photo by Mike Lawrence)
The New York Red Bulls clinched the MLS Eastern Conference with their 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Union.
With the win, they avoid the knockout stage in the MLS Playoffs and secure home-field advantage in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Red Bulls Head Coach Jesse Marsch said of how winning the Eastern Conference validates the club’s plans of building a system instead of getting high-priced European imports, “It’s a nice moment for our club. It’s a nice moment for the players and the work that they’ve put in. I’m happy for the organization and the positive vibe that has gone on here from day one that I’ve been here. Everyone around here has continued to show belief in me and belief in the way that we operate in as a team and belief in our players. It means that we’ve all been put in a situation to succeed. It’s a nice time to reflect, yeah, but we’re hungry. We’re not satisfied, we want more. We want to honor everything that’s been done by making the strongest push we possibly can and to have the exact mentality we know we need to have in order to really give us a chance to win a championship. That’s where we’re at right now. Big week to get ready for Chicago and then, obviously, after that.”
Marsch said of being successful without having a high payroll, “I don’t like when people talk about our payroll being so low because I think it belittles our players. I think we have a really talented team. Yeah, we don’t have the big superstars that you spend $5 million a pop on a guy, but we have a really balanced team, a really talented team, and I think I’d take my group of players over any group of players in this league and I truly mean that. This is our approach, this is who we are, and it’s about every guy giving everything he has to the group. We’re proud of what we’ve become and proud of the identity that we’re building. I’m being honest when I say that year one is the start of the project. We’re where we want to be right now but it’s about building for years to come.”
Red Bulls Forward Bradley Wright-Phillips said of succeeding without big names, “I think the ownership really challenged every single player, young and old, every player on the squad, they’ve challenged us to take ownership of this team and be leaders and I think that’s one thing that has made us a little bit better.”
The Red Bulls are tied with FC Dallas for the best record overall in the MLS and winning the Supporters’ Shield. That will be settled on Sunday when the Red Bulls are at the Chicago Fire and Dallas is at the San Jose Earthquakes.
Marsch said of the pressures of winning the Shield and the MLS Cup, “Yeah, it’s where we’re at. I think we’ve put ourselves in a position to go after things. We’re going to have to earn it. We’re going to have to go to Chicago, a place we’ve never won. Dallas keeps pushing their team. Respect the way they’ve played and the job their coaches have done. They’ve got a tough game against San Jose but we play first so we’re going to have to go out on the field and from the first minute, just like we did tonight, go after the game and know that three points gets us the Shield and sets us up for the Cup.”
The Red Bulls improved to 17-10-6 with 57 points, opening up a six-point lead on DC United with just one game remaining. This is just the third time in MetroStars/Red Bulls franchise history they won 17 games, with the others being 2000 and 2003. Their home record is the best in franchise history, as they went 12-3-2 at Red Bull Arena, surpassing the 11 wins in 2012 and 2013.
The Red Bulls wasted no time getting on the board on Sunday, as Mike Grella took the ball away from Philadelphia and raced to the other end to score in just seven seconds. He set the record for fastest goal ever in MLS history, surpassing another Red Bull, Tim Cahill, who took just eight seconds to score in a game at Houston on October 20, 2013.
On what happened during the fastest goal in MLS history, Grella said, “We come out pressing all the time, but it’s usually just for a little bit of pressure, but this time we actually picked one off quite early. I think it was an error or a bad pass back, and their center back hesitated, and it was just me and him back there, and I just took him to the left, and finished near post.”
Marsch said of the belief in Grella and his development this season, “Mike’s been great from day one. From day one we were like, ‘this guy’s got something.’ He really wanted to establish himself because he knew this is his home and he probably felt that this is his last chance. He’s taken this chance and run with it. We’ve shown belief in him but we’ve also been hard on him on certain days, too, and we challenge him to do more and be more. Mike has shown up every day, doesn’t take a day off, and works as hard as anybody we have. His good days you just see he’s so clever and tricky, good around the goal, and the work rate he puts in. He fits the way we want to play. He can run all day. We’ve been proud of him for the year that he’s put in.”
Wright-Phillps said of Grella’s early goal, “It was great. It takes the weight off everyone’s shoulders and we really needed a good start. I didn’t expect it to be that good, but it was brilliant and after that we were just on fire…I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in a game with a goal that fast before, brilliant.”
Red Bulls goalie Luis Robles said of the Grella goal, “I couldn’t believe it happened that easily. One, for them to turn it over so easily and then not to react, and then even when he hit it, I couldn’t tell if it went in or not because it was kind of a strange bounce, but to have that sort of start for any team, I think knowing you have to go up against us down a goal seven seconds into the game, is going to be a difficult task.”
It did not take long for the Red Bulls to put the game away, as Wright-Phillips scored in the fourth minute. Grella with his second of the game in the 17th, and Kemar Lawrence in the 44th minute to make it a 4-0 rout heading into the half.
Sebastien Le Toux scored in the 55th minute for Philadelphia to prevent Red Bulls goalie Luis Robles from getting a clean sheet.
Robles made some history with the win, as he got his 49th career victory to surpass Tony Meola’s team record. It was Robles’ 105th straight start, as he is just seven away from the MLS record set by Kevin Hartman, who started 112 in a row.
Robles said of the Red Bulls staying hungry for the rest of the season: “It is important that we stay hungry, that we have an instinctual desire to go forward, get goals, defend, and nonetheless, not only win the shield, but advance towards the cup. I think the word I like to use is resolve. There’s been several times this season where we may have not played well…but you look at the resolve of this team, the mental fortitude, and we know that when our quality comes out and we have that mental toughness, we’re going to be very difficult.”
For the Red Bulls, it was a matter of revenge against Philadelphia, who won at Red Bull Arena on May 24 and then knocked them out of the US Open Cup on July 21. Wright-Phillips said of getting a satisfying win against Philadelphia, “They came here and they knocked us out of the open cup and a couple of times I felt that we had the better of them, but didn’t take our chances, or they just grinded it out, but today wasn’t the case.”