Coming into this season, the Red Bulls had qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs eleven straight years, but following a 2-1 road loss to the Columbus Crew on September 14th, things were not looking that great in terms of continuing that streak. The Red Bulls had just 23 points through 22 games and they were 10 points behind Atlanta for the 7th and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. According to the website www.fivethirtyeight.com, they had just a 7% chance of making the playoffs.
Somebody forgot to send the Red Bulls the memo that there season was over.
What the Red Bulls went on to do was nothing short of miraculous as they finished the season on 7-1-4 run collecting 25 points over their final 12 matches including Sunday’s 1-1 draw in Nashville that clinched their 12th straight trip to the playoffs. That is the longest streak of any New York/New Jersey area sports franchise and the second longest active streak in Major League Soccer.
After punching their ticket to the postseason, the Red Bulls will travel to Subaru Park to meet the Philadelphia Union in the first round of the playoffs on Saturday November 20th at 230pm.
Nobody gave them a chance to be in this position. Nobody.
Well maybe except everyone in their locker room.
“I think we just invested everything we possibly had into this final stretch,” said Red Bulls Captain Sean Davis. “We just went for it. We got result after result. We didn’t look back. We reset every time. Credit to the staff for their belief, for staying on top of us, for creating the necessary dialogue for us to understand what we needed to do.”
When things were at their worst for the Red Bulls, Head Coach Gerhard Struber and his staff kept things together and kept his players believing that they had that run in them.
“I am very happy and I am very proud of the way we go with this season and right now we stay in the playoffs,” said Struber. “This was the goal over the whole season, and we realize this on the last gameday and the feeling is outstanding.”
With just 1 loss in their last 12 games, the Red Bulls went from being on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs are concerned to a situation where they not only have made the playoffs but they also feel they have a chance to win MLS Cup for the first time in franchise history.
“Why can’t it be us with our recent form?” said Davis who played in every minute of every match this season. “Why can’t it be us with everything we’ve gone through? It’s not going to be easy but I’m really excited for this group.”
A big reason for the Red Bulls’ late season surge was the way they were able to play away from Red Bull Arena. They began the season with a road record of 1-8-2 but they finished the campaign with a record of 4-1-1 in matches played on away pitches while they outscored their opponents 9-3 in those games. The Red Bulls cannot host any playoff games, so it will take three road wins to get to MLS Cup and then a fourth win on the road to hoist the cup.
Given how they played on the road down the stretch, the Red Bulls feel they have what it takes to be road warriors in the playoffs.
“We’re hoping that’s the momentum we need heading into the playoffs,” said Davis. “I think we’re in a really good place defensively. When you look at the numbers compared to years past, it’s just about as good of a defensive team as ever. I think that makes us a really dangerous team in playoffs.”
Dangerous would be the right word to describe this team.
The Red Bulls allowed just 33 goals this season, the second fewest in Major League Soccer and the second lowest total in a 34-game schedule in franchise history. There’s a saying in professional sports that offense wins games but defense wins championships. It took a while for the Red Bulls to start getting results this season, but they are on a roll now, especially on their own half of the pitch.
So why not the Red Bulls?
Well, to sort of steal a line from the 1973 Mets, “You gotta Bull-ieve!”