There's no real sense of panic among the New York Red Bulls. There is, however, plenty of frustration.
The Red Bulls finished the month of August out of a playoff spot in the tight Eastern Conference, splitting their four games down the middle at 2-2 to drop into sixth place.
No alarm bells have sounded even as the club’s far-too-familiar inconsistency continues to rear its head, not with nine games remaining and only two points separating them from fourth-placed Toronto FC.
Still, New York know they are capable of more – and aggravated at not being able to demonstrate that for sustained stretches in 2014.
“I think frustration more than anything,” said Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke earlier this week when asked about the team’s mood. “I can’t put words in players’ mouths or tell you what they’re thinking, but I would imagine some frustration and bewilderment at times, but at the end of the day we have a strong team and we have to step up and prove that.
“Again, it’s tough to put words in their mouth, but I would expect that they’re determined, that they’re on board, and I’m pretty certain they are. They know what we’re capable of as well as I do, and it’s about no more talking and just getting out and doing it.”
Last season at this time, the Red Bulls were in the midst of a strong stretch run that saw them win the Supporters’ Shield. That team was kept mostly intact during the offseason in a concentrated effort to ensure some continuity, but having a number of returning players – not to mention the league’s leading scorer, Bradley Wright-Phillips – has not stopped the Red Bulls from struggling to a subpar 7-8-10 record.
Petke has faith in his side’s talent, though, and expects the players to step up and deliver during the final two months of the campaign, beginning with Saturday’s home tilt vs. Sporting Kansas City, who themselves have slipped down the standings thanks to a 1-4-1 stretch since the start of August.
“It’s now. We have to pick up points,” said Petke. “If not, we have to what no one ever wants to do and that’s rely on other teams to keep losing. We’re not in the mindset to do something like that. We want to take care of our own situation.
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“Do I think this team is capable of making a run? Absolutely, 100 percent. Are we going to? I have confidence we will. I have confidence that we’ll make the playoffs, but at the end of the day, we have nine games to prove that.”
This weekend’s duel with Sporting KC marks the first of a four-game stretch against Eastern Conference teams for New York. Those matches are doubly important given that they can help the Red Bulls and hurt opposing teams trying to clinch postseason berths, and Petke is hoping his team can capitalize on the big opportunity to move up the standings by performing at optimum level.
“Are they games that will bury us? No. Are they games that will put is in the playoffs? No,” said Petke. “That’ll be decided once we lock it up, but obviously every game is an important game from now on and we realize that, the players realize that, so we’re taking them as such.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.