UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Nearly two months' worth of struggles in league play has the New York Red Bulls in must-win mode now more than ever during a frustrating and unpredictable season, and they’re not mincing words about what’s at stake.
The current slide has dropped New York from first to third in the Eastern Conference, where they’re suddenly teetering on the edge of the playoff picture. They play host to the Chicago Fire at Red Bull Arena on Saturday (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online), seeking just their second win in the last 11 league games.
“I don’t know what to say anymore. We got to win,” Red Bulls striker Thierry Henry said on Thursday. “We have six games remaining at home and now we need to win as much as we can.”
Two weeks ago, the Red Bulls sub-par season was lifted by winning the Emirates Cup in London, beating Paris Saint-Germain and tying Arsenal to win the preseason tournament. The cup win means nothing in terms of real hardware for the club, but it was an emotional lift for a side that has been struggling.
But all those good feelings from the Emirates flew away at Rio Tinto last weekend in a 3-0 loss to Real Salt Lake. Now, the Red Bulls are in start-over mode.
“[Head coach Hans Backe] said to us this morning that we have to start from scratch,” Henry said. “It’s almost the start of a mini-season.”
And that is the Red Bulls short-sighted approached to the remaining games on the schedule as they try to maintain their playoff chances and keep their long-range vision of making a run at the MLS Cup. The task begins on Saturday night with a home game against Chicago, a team that Backe said is “very difficult to play.”
During his two years with the Red Bulls, Backe has faced the Fire three times in regular-season play and New York have managed just three goals in those matches. They also lost 4-0 to Chicago in the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup in June.
And with some poor recent play in the Eastern Conference, the Red Bulls know that their postseason fate rests on them getting some wins to provide separation against their conference foes.
“We just need to do it now,” Backe said. “We’re giving away Christmas presents in the Eastern Conference. Our future is still with us.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer