HANOVER, N.J. – Talking about the Supporters’ Shield isn’t taboo for the New York Red Bulls, but it might as well be.
Days away from hosting the Chicago Fire on Sunday in a regular season finale with the Supporters’ Shield at stake (5 pm ET, UniMas), the Red Bulls are doing their best to avoid discussing the real possibility of winning the first piece of major hardware in club history. No, the magnitude of Sunday’s match at Red Bull Arena is not lost on the team, but the club feels it is not necessary to discuss what a win would mean at length because, frankly, it’s already understood.
“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out it would mean a lot to this organization,” said Dax McCarty, one of the few to directly address what a win would mean for the trophy-less Red Bulls. “It’s something that’s kind of unspoken with the players. We don’t have to talk about it. We don’t talk about. We don’t talk about it, but I think we can taste it and I think we know what it would mean not only to this whole organization and these fans, but to us as players.”
Those Red Bulls players are likely as confident a group as you’ll find currently in MLS. The team is riding a seven-game unbeaten run that has the players feeling light and focused ahead of a match that has the potential to overwhelm given the serious implications.
During Wednesday’s training, it was obvious how much the New York players were enjoying one another. Make no mistake, the competitiveness and intensity was there during the session, but so too was a lighthearted mood that kept many players on the field after practice to long after head coach Mike Petke required.
Not that the boss was particularly surprised.
“They’re the same exact [way] they have been the last three, four weeks. Exact,” said Petke. “That makes me happy because it doesn’t make me think that they’re overconfident or, on the flip side of that, buckling under the pressure. Today’s practice is exactly what it’s been like for the last month, spirit-wise, effort-wise, the way we’ve approached it. No different.”
“Everyone is just really happy,” added McCarty. “I think that’s the main thing. Success breeds happiness. Being successful makes the locker room a lot more easy going, it makes guys a lot more looser and it makes guys more confident.”
That confidence, combined with the unity the players feel right now, might be the biggest difference from this side and Red Bulls teams of years past, teams that have been in similarly good positions only to fail when things mattered most. But unlike those teams, the 2013 group seems to have a different mentality and that’s why many within the organization believe the team is sitting so pretty right now.
“Spirit is worth its weight in gold,” said sporting director Andy Roxburgh. “That commitment that they’ve got and they trust each other now, which is obviously good. When you talk to the boys, there’s a sense of camaraderie amongst them. The team has come together, that’s the way I would put it.
“But there’s still big hurdles to come and the first hurdle is on Sunday.”