HARRISON, N.J. – In a 2-0 win at Red Bull Arena on Saturday night, the New York Red Bulls bucked a trend and thrust themselves back into the playoff mix.
In their previous 10 games, the Red Bulls have been behind at halftime seven times, which had forced them to play furious soccer in the second half to have even a shot at securing points.
However, in Saturday's defeat of the Portland Timbers, a strong start pushed New York to a halftime lead and ultimately earned them three key points for their postseason push.
A Dane Richards goal in the 21st minute lifted the Red Bulls ahead after an opening 20 minutes in which New York held the better of possession and quality opportunities.
Feeding off a sell-out crowd of 25,008 at Red Bull Arena, the home side seemed to sense the urgency of the moment, willing themselves to a win that pushed them into the 10th and final playoff spot.
“We wanted to stay organized from the first whistle," defender Stephen Keel said. "For Dane to get that goal was great, but overall [it was] a great, great start from the opening whistle.”
It was an offensive push that carried over for 90 minutes and resulted in an 8-2 edge in shots on goals and a 12-3 advantage in corner kicks. It was perhaps the most complete 90 minutes that the Red Bulls have played since a 5-0 drubbing of Toronto FC on July 6, and it was a double-points win for New York as they took three away from the Timbers, who are also vying for a playoff spot.
The pressure was on New York to set the tempo early, and the pressure on Troy Perkins' goal was a testament to the Red Bulls' effort to grab that early lead.
“We needed to do that starting six, seven, 10 games ago,” defender Tim Ream said. “That’s something we really made a conscious effort [to do]. We’re really mindful of it coming into this game. It definitely paid off for us, a solid 2-0 win, three points and getting us right back into the playoff picture.”
And given the distractions this week — Designated Player and defender Rafa Márquez was suspended for Saturday's match by the club for making controversial comments about his teammates — it was a team effort to step up and perform. Following a disastrous 3-1 home loss to Real Salt Lake midweek, it was the Red Bulls' stated goal to put everything from that game behind them as they look to secure a playoff spot for a consecutive year.
“We need to look forward," Jan Gunnar Solli said. "People get frustrated sometimes, they say bad things, but you have to forgive — that’s the most important thing. You’re a team. I think everyone needs to forgive that something was said that shouldn’t be said.”
But given the magnitude of the game — Portland entered the game one point ahead of New York for the final playoff spot — the Red Bulls instead chose to focus on the task at hand. Rather than dwelling on Wednesday's loss and the postgame remarks, New York came out to secure three points.
“I think it was definitely much better for everyone to get it out there, let it blow up," said Ream, who was on the receiving end of Márquez's recent criticisms. "It was kind of a flash in the pan, it wasn’t really anything. There’s really nothing that lingered.
"There’s going to be spats every now and again; it’s inevitable. It happened this week and again we’re past it. Hopefully we start a little roll here.”