UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — The New York Red Bulls are hoping Saturday’s pivotal game against Sporting Kansas City will prove to be more third time’s the charm than three strikes and you’re out.
Having failed to beat Sporting in two regular season meetings this year, the Red Bulls are not only looking to knock off the Eastern Conference leaders in their final regular-season meeting at Red Bull Arena, but also assure themselves of a spot in the playoffs in the process. New York currently sit in fourth place in the East with two games to go, and a win would guarantee them a place in the postseason. But it won’t be easy.
“It’s one of the best, if not the best, defense in the league,” Thierry Henry told reporters Thursday. “They don’t concede a lot. With them 1-0 can be enough. They don’t concede more than one. It did happen this season, but it’s pretty rare.”
While the matchup between Sporting KC’s back four and the Red Bulls attack will be a key to the game, so too will New York’s ability to cope with the high-pressure defensive tactic the visitors are likely to deploy. The Red Bulls failed to handle that in the first half of their 2-0 home loss to Sporting KC in September, and that allowed Peter Vermes’ side to attack relentlessly before scoring twice in a feeble opening 45 minutes for New York.
“You have to deal with this. They deal with it,” said Henry, who did not play in the 1-1 draw in Kansas City in August. “Most of the teams try to do it to them and they deal with it. Most of the teams are trying to do it to Chicago to Seattle or to Salt Lake or other teams in the league that have to deal with that and they deal with it.
“It’s true at times that we didn’t deal well with a team that comes out at us and puts pressure early, that’s maybe why we conceded goals early, I don’t know. But you have to deal with that. That’s how it’s going to be in the playoffs, home and away, the round after and if you ever go to the finals, that’s how it’s going to be. We have to do a better job and try to deal with it.”
Henry may have mentioned the playoffs but he was not ready to pencil the Red Bulls into the postseason just yet, not with how tight the Eastern Conference is. What he was sure of, however, is that if New York wants to win a title this season, they’ll likely have to knock off Kansas City at some point.
“We’re not there yet,” said Henry. “We might see them. We all know they are there already. But you definitely know whether we go, Houston, Columbus, whatever, if you want to win the MLS Cup, you have to go through Kansas City.
“To be honest, after the game, we’re going to know if we’re ready or not to maybe do something this year.”
And if the Red Bulls can finally top Sporting KC on Saturday? That just might give New York a mental edge should the two sides meet again in the postseason.
“Let’s hope this can finally be the one and if we do make the playoffs, it would be great if we can somehow let them know that we can maybe beat them,” said Henry. “I don’t believe too much in that, but if you still can let a team know that you can somehow beat them, they will remember.”