It was that perfect blend that New York head coach Hans Backe has wanted, combining the possession style from the season’s opening games with the “cynical soccer” Backe asked his team to play the past two months. It culminated with a 2-0 win over FC Dallas on Wednesday night that showed the balance that can make the Red Bulls a dark horse in the playoffs.
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“I don’t think anybody’s really thinking about it in this locker room, that we’re peaking,” defender Tim Ream said. “But we’ve always known we can play this way, that we can win games by playing this way.”
Their current run started at the same place where, on Wednesday night, the Red Bulls emerged victorious. Six weeks ago, New York began a 4-2-1 stretch to close out the season with a 1-0 win at Pizza Hut Park. That game was very defensive-minded from the Red Bulls, who held possession for just 40 percent of the match and saw FC Dallas have an edge in shots, shots on goal and corner kicks.
That Sept. 17 win was a New York side very much in a state of struggles, searching for an identity and just hoping to make the playoffs. But on Wednesday night in their playoff win, things were far more balanced and their confidence showed with a more complete performance.
“We look sharper,” Backe said. “We look fresh. We run more, we tackle more, we’re more precise. We definitely look more like a team defending and attacking. But we’ll see.”
The balanced offense, with more possession and more quality scoring opportunities — New York had just two shots on goal six weeks ago in Dallas — meant that FC Dallas had more difficulty in breaking down the Red Bulls than in their last encounter.
As Thierry Henry raced to the corner kick flag to celebrate his stoppage time goal, shushing the crowd with a finger pressed over his lips, it was the Red Bulls who seemed to quiet their critics with the result. All year long, fans and the media wondered if this team had the personnel to get results in crunch time, especially after a summer stretch when wins were rare and the team repeatedly found ways to give up points.
Turns out, it was enough to get them through a tough test on Wednesday night.
“We all have one objective,” left back Roy Miller said. “That's clear to us. We had maybe a bad run there, but I think the attitude of this team has changed. We're playing better soccer now, which is what we want, what the fans want to see.”