(Red Bulls goalie Luis Robles (31) hoists the Supporters’ Shield with his teammates – @NewYorkRedBulls)
The New York Red Bulls won the MLS Supporters’ Shield, as they clinched the best record in the league with a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire.
The Red Bulls finish at 18-10-6, with 60 points, and their road record was the second best in the MLS, at 6-7-4. The 18 wins is a franchise record, surpassing the 17 victories in 2000 and 2013.
This is the second tie the Red Bulls have won the Supporters’ Shield, having also won it in 2013.
The Red Bulls will have home field advantage all the way through to the MLS Cup. The Red Bulls will find out their opponent in the Eastern Conference Semifinals when the knockout rounds are completed this Wednesday and Thursday. They will travel to the lower-seeded team for the first leg of the semifinals on November 1 and return home for the second part on November 8.
The Red Bulls were dealing with Thierry Henry retiring and Tim Cahill leaving the team in early February, just a month before the season.
The biggest change came in January when Red Bulls Sporting Director Ali Curtis fired popular Head Coach Mike Petke, who led the team to a deep playoff run last season and the Shield in 2013.
Jesse Marsch took over as Red Bulls Head Coach and he heard boos on opening night and chants of “We want Petke” from the supporters’ section.
Marsch persevered through the first few months of the season and the team was 5-5-5 entering the New York Derby against NYC FC at Yankee Stadium on June 28.
They won that day, as they did their other two games against NYC FC, and from that point on, they surged and went on a 13-5-1 run to close the season.
On Sunday night, Marsch said of the season, “I think that this group deserves the Supporters’ Shield. I think that in a lot of ways they were the best team throughout the season, they showed that I think, game in and game out. Obviously the points add up to mean we’re there. So I’m happy for them to reach this achievement. I said on television, ‘in life, you don’t always get what you deserve,’ but here I think they got what they deserve. Now the key is to know that moving forward the next month, we all start from scratch. And actually what it may mean is, we have an even bigger target on out backs. We have to enjoy tonight but absolutely be ready for Monday morning, because it’s back to business.”
Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips said of the Shield, “It’s very special. Because you know at the beginning of the season, even when I remember back to London in the offseason, I just heard nothing but negative press. What we’re going to do about so-called players and we managed to use that as our fuel. This isn’t everything but this is a big part of history for us. I’m proud of the boys, every one of them.”
Red Bulls captain midfielder Dax McCarty said of the significance of winning a second Supporters’ Shield in three years, “It’s huge. It’s very significant. Obviously, this one means a lot, just like the first one did. But I think this one, you know, for me, it’s special for different reasons obviously than the first one, for sure. No one expecting much from us this year. A lot of people wrote us off in the beginning. A lot of people gave us no chance to be part of the postseason, now we are here. Statistically speaking, we are the best team in the league after the regular season. It’s a great feeling, and it’s part of our goal setting for the year that’s been accomplished. We have another big goal that we are dreaming of now. Now we can forget the regular season and go on towards the playoffs. It’s hard to put into words, but it means a lot to this group. We are like a family and it’s just a reward for the way that we’ve played this season.”
McCarty said of looking ahead to the playoffs, “We just have to enjoy it tonight, enjoy the Shield tonight, and then move on. The playoffs is a totally different beast. A totally different animal. It’s almost like a mini season. It’s a single series you have. You have to be ready for whatever. I think I’ve learned in the playoffs just to expect the unexpected. Literally anything can happen in the playoffs. I think the team that is mentally ready for that, the teams are mentally strong and the teams that have each others’ backs usually come out on top in the playoffs. We just have to be ready to focus on each series that we play. Trying to be better and win the series.”
On his message to the fans, McCarty said, “To the fans that stuck by us when a lot of people wrote us off, thank you, this is for you. You guys deserve it. To the fans that maybe wrote us off in the beginning but are now back on the bandwagon, we welcome you back with open arms. I think it’s a testament to the vision of the club, it’s a testament to the vision of Ali Curtis and Jesse Marsch. Two guys that took a lot of heat early in the season, two guys that really put their necks on the line when they made the decisions that they made. I think it’s tough to argue that it hasn’t paid off with the type of season that we’ve had. But the Shield means a little bit, but it doesn’t mean very much if we don’t take it to the postseason and put forth a good honest effort to win the MLS Cup. That’s our next focus and our next goal, and we just hope the fans stick by us.”
On Sunday night, Bradley Wright-Phillips put the Red Bulls on the board early, as he scored in the eighth minute to make it 1-0.
This was the Red Bulls’ 12th goal in the first 15 minutes of the game, the most in the MLS.
Wright-Phillips said of the importance of getting an early goal, “Yes, it was very important. Not just for the result, but for the nerves. Everyone knows how big the occasion was, and we just wanted to start well. Not even get a goal, but start well. Let them know why we’re here; it worked out well.”
This was Wright-Phillips’ 17th goal of the season, and along with the 27 he scored last season, the 44 goals ties the most in a back-to-back seasons in MLS history. Stern John scored 26 for Columbus in 1998 and 18 in 1999.
Wright-Phillips said of tying the record for goals in consecutive seasons, “I didn’t know that. I’m happy with that. I’ve always told my (goals) were at the end of the regular season, it might sound like a lit, but I wanted 17 goals. I wanted one in every two (games). A one in two ratio. That’s what I aim for. I’ve kind of given that away for next season. I wanted a one in two, and that’s what I wanted. So I’m happy, I’m happy. On to the playoffs.”
Sacha Kljestan assisted on Wright-Phillips’ goal, his 14th of the season, tying him with Eduardo Hurtado and Thierry Henry for the team record in a regular season.
Kljestan got a goal of his own in the 35th minute, converting on a penalty kick that was won by Mike Grella. This was Kljestan’s fifth goal from the penalty spot this season. That made it 2-0 Red Bulls, which was enough to hold on, as Chicago only got a goal from Gilberto in the 78th minute.
This was the Red Bulls’ first victory in Chicago since 2005 and fourth in franchise history. This was the Red Bulls’ first victory in Toyota Park, which the Fire started playing there in 2006.
Marsch said of the match, “They stepped on the field in the first half and really went after it. I thought on the road, to set the tone like that, and obviously to get the two-zero lead, it showed their character in a pressure-packed moment. In the second half, you have to give Chicago credit because they knew they had to push, they pushed really hard and in the end, they scored a goal and we’re holding on a little bit for dear life. But that final whistle couldn’t have come early enough, but we still did enough today to get the win.”
Marsch said of winning the Shield at a place the Red Bulls never won at before, Toyota Park, “It’s a great celebration for our club and our team with everything that’s gone on in the past 10 months. There’s been a sense on the inside that despite what everyone wanted to say about our group and our team, that there was something special happening here. We have to continue to honor it for the next month. But you know that a lot of these guys wanted to prove that it wasn’t about Thierry Henry. It wasn’t about whatever was going on in the offseason. There was talent here and they believed in themselves and they believed in each other and they all put it together for a pretty complete season. So again, we start from scratch. We start from scratch come Monday.”