HARRISON, N.J. – Currently one of five winless teams in Major League Soccer, the New York Red Bulls need to perform drastically better in several areas if they are to finally pick up their first victory on Wednesday.
The Red Bulls (0-2-4) play host to the Philadelphia Union (1-1-4) at Red Bull Arena (7:30 pm ET; MLS Free Stream of the Week) and are confident they can end the winless run after putting together an offensive onslaught, albeit an ultimately unsuccessful one, in a 1-0 loss to D.C. United on Saturday.
In fact, head coach Mike Petke and his players are so encouraged by what they saw in that defeat that they have remained focused but lighthearted.
New York wrapped up their Tuesday practice session by playing games in which they kicked balls into a standing recycle bin. It looked like there were no worries to be found among the team, despite the mounting pressure and an increasingly frustrated fan base.
“Look, tomorrow is a big game for us,” midfielder Tim Cahill, who is back from a hamstring injury and should be available for selection, told reporters Tuesday. “This is it. I feel a win, so we’re going to go for it. ...
"I’m in a really positive mind frame that our season can start tomorrow. Last season, we started [winning] about this time. We’ve only lost two games. We’ve played four away, two at home, so let’s start getting the home form good. Let’s keep getting chances, and hopefully I can be on the end of a few.”
New York created more than enough chances to pick up a victory in D.C. this past weekend, but a heavy and perplexing dose of inaccuracy prevented the club from grabbing a result against their rivals at RFK Stadium.
Failure to finish aside, the Red Bulls’ attack has made progress in recent weeks. The club had its first multi-goal game in a 2-2 draw against the Montreal Impact on April 5, and it could have had three in that match if forward Péguy Luyindula had converted a penalty kick.
Not many would have predicted that the club that led the scoring charts in 2013 would have just six goals in six games this season, but they did score only four goals in their first four games last year before getting off the hook with a 2-1 home win against -- you guessed it - Philadelphia.
“In the game it’s about opportunities, it’s about moments, it’s about taking those opportunities in those moments,” said Petke. “It all comes down to the moment, I guess you could say. We were a little off, [but] we had clear-cut opportunities in D.C. I thought we showed exactly what we can be. …
"If people aren’t seeing that there’s a dramatic improvement over the last six games and countless opportunities, then they don’t know the game. It’s about being patient now still and realizing that good things are happening, and hopefully it clicks.”
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One other area the Red Bulls know they need to improve is how they start games. They have allowed the first goal in five of six games this year, including three goals in the first six minutes of the game, all on the road and several on pieces.
That has forced New York to dig out of holes just to grab results, and Thierry Henry acknowledged that must change if the Red Bulls are to have a shot at picking up their first full three points of the year.
“At the moment, we are reacting every time instead of acting,” said Henry. “It’s about time that if we can actually start the game like we finish them.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.