Red Bulls in peak form heading into Sporting KC test

UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Somehow, someway, the New York Red Bulls might actually peak at just the right time after all.

Stuck in neutral for much of the late summer and once dangerously close to missing the postseason, the Red Bulls actually have the chance to vault right back into the Eastern Conference race with a win against Sporting Kansas City at Livestrong Sporting Park on Saturday (4 pm ET, TeleFutura).

The automatic postseason bid is enough motivation for the Red Bulls, winners of three of their last five matches.

“I think everybody is aware of the situation — we need to pick up points,” head coach Hans Backe said. “Heading into the playoffs and with the run we have had, I think everyone is so, so focused, we’ve given ourselves a chance — taking care of our own business, not looking at the other results or standings. With the last couple of games, I still think we are getting better and better for every game.”

It’s been a meteoric rise through the rankings for the Red Bulls, who at one point in September sat outside the playoff picture despite having topped the Eastern Conference for much of the first half of the year. A rocky July and August where they won just once in league play led to a slide down the standings.

“We can be everything but overconfident after the season we’ve had,” striker Thierry Henry said. “If anyone is overconfident on this team, it’d be wrong. If you had told me four weeks ago that we’re maybe battling to be second or maybe first if a miracle happens, I’d have said to you, ‘Yeah right, let’s grab that last spot.’ So now it looks a bit better, but I wouldn’t go so far as saying or maybe thinking or maybe dreaming of being overconfident. We’re far from it.”

Now with the chance to take a big step this weekend and get points on the road against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, the push from New York will be to finish strong after a roller-coaster season.

“This whole team is realizing we’re going to keep playing,” midfielder Joel Lindpere said, “or we’re going to just go home and watch the games from the television.”