Cynical soccer the key to RBNY's late-season turnaround

Stephen Keel goes into a challenge

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UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Before the Red Bulls recent run of good form started, a stretch where the team has gotten 10 points from five games to propel the team into the ninth playoff spot, head coach Hans Backe’s message to the team was for them to start playing “cynical soccer.”

The Red Bulls have taken message to heart. It’s a mindset that Backe wanted to instill in the team to make sure that they take care of their defensive responsibilities before they focus on attacking.

“When we talk cynical, it’s more the individual decision-making,” Backe said. “It’s not as a team, it’s the individual decision making to not overplay, be quite cynical when you need to clear the ball. Don’t give away anything, try to be smart. That kind of cynical.”

Now with a 3-1-1 record through their past five games, the Red Bulls seem to have struck that balance, or what Backe calls the team’s “rhythm.” They are defending in numbers, much like they did last year when they had one of the top defenses in the league and have allowed just one goal in the four games in which they’ve gotten a result.

New York appear to be rounding into a team no one wants to play in the postseason if their current form holds — something they're intent upon in Saturday's game against Sporting Kansas City (4 pm ET, TeleFutura).

“For me, cynical defending, in all honesty, is about getting everyone organized, staying compact,” defender Stephen Keel told MLSsoccer.com. “Our goal back there is to defend first. When in doubt or there is a question, hit it out, hit it up to Thierry [Henry] and Juan [Agudelo] or Luke [Rodgers]. It is a safety first aspect. Looking at it from a negative perspective, trying to play it safe.”

It is a change from the stretch of July and August when they won just once in league play. Backe lamented the “individual mistakes” when the team plays fast and loose out of the backline, leading to costly turnovers and the team being caught out of position to guard against the counterattack.

Mistakes like that have cost them just twice in the recent stretch – against Real Salt Lake when Fabián Espíndola intercepted a misplaced back pass from center back Tim Ream for an easy goal, and against Toronto FC a week later when Rafa Márquez’s failure to track back after a giveaway handed the Reds their lone goal .

Those kinds of plays are the antithesis of what Backe’s brand of cynical soccer is all about.

“We’re just always trying to play smart and take care of our business first,” defender Carlos Mendes told MLSsoccer.com. “It isn’t always about what’s the prettiest; sometimes it’s just about being effective. To me, cynical soccer is about getting that result, getting that clean sheet and then seeing what happens from there. You put yourself in a good position to win if you play that way.”

WATCH: Henry, Rodgers, Backe talk Sporting
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