The word was that the New York Red Bulls (13-12-7, 46 pts.) forgot how to win. It took eight games without a victory to spur the Reds to action and suddenly they slipped into their Halloween guise of Red October. The Western Conference leader Vancouver Whitecaps (15-11-6, 51 pts.) were the victims of a 3-0 shellacking at Red Bull Arena tonight. The Red Bulls crossed the postseason finish line for the eighth straight season, second longest active streak in MLS and 14th appearance in the last 15 years.
“September was difficult and disappointing for us. We continued to feel we were playing well,” Red Bull Head coach Jesse Marsch said, “It was just a matter of time before we were going to start to have it add up.”
The Red Bulls went back to the basics of their style. They started by paroling the back end as Connor Lade and Kemar Lawrence stood out keeping the Whitecaps from seriously threatening Luis Robles. Tyler Adams added two assists while supporting both ends as usual. This is an area Marsch specifically was eying as Mike Murillo was out on national team duty and Aurelian Collin is still working his way back from injury.
“I’ve been challenging our defenders because we’ve been making too many mistakes,” Marsch said, “It’s key to be realists. If we can shore that up, the rest will take care of itself.”
The big issue during the drought was cashing in scoring opportunities. The absence of Daniel Royer coincided with their recent struggles. His return demonstrated how much they really missed him. Royer, a perfect mix of physical size along with a little man’s skill set was all alone on the left flank in the 33rd minute of the opening half and Red Bull Captain Sacha Kljestan, with the ball on the top of the key found him cleanly and Royer knew what to do with it blasting it beyond the reach of Whitecap goalie David Ousted for his 12th of the season.
“We knew he was important let’s start there. When he went down that’s when the results started to shift,” said Marsch, “The key was to pick up where he left off. He’s been fantastic again. It’s part quality, part mentality, part belief and part commitment to the team.”
The second part of the equation was Bradley Wright-Phillips, who had an earlier goal disallowed. But he was relentless all night looking nimble as he probed deeply into the Vancouver defenses with speed bursts until the 58th minute when Tyler Adams redirected a sharp bullet past two defenders catching Phillips on the run and everyone watched him go on a beautiful sprint worthy of the Olympic 100. Bradley got his gold at the end smashing in a laser for his team leading 17th goal and 86th in his Red Bull career. The Red Bulls were clicking on all cylinders.
“It’s a few details. That’s what’s important about tonight,” Marsch said, “We had a great start, we dominated the game for 90 minutes. We controlled almost every aspect of the game and then we get a big win.”
The topping on this victory cake was applied by Felipe who caught a back pass outside the center and proceeded to rocket a net burner past Ousted in the 72nd minute putting the game away and ending a stressful qualifying campaign as they secured the sixth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
In terms of getting the result now. It’s good about releasing some anxiety about making the playoffs,” Marsch said, “The key will be to continue to have urgency and hunger to improve and play meaningful matches.”
After having been a favorite with the target on their backs the past few years, the Reds are embracing the opposite role in 2017.
“I think this group will relish the underdog role.”