HANOVER, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls know they need a strong finish to the season in order to cement their postseason berth, and they fully intend to lean on a favorable schedule that will see them play inside the friendly confines of Red Bull Arena more often than not.
The Red Bulls have 11 games remaining but seven of those will be at home, meaning the Eastern Conference’s fifth-placed club will theoretically have the upper hand in the majority of the matches that will decide its season. New York have not been overwhelmingly impressive at Red Bull Arena this season, posting a 4-2-4 record there thus far, but the plan is to reestablish it as their “fortress” again.
That starts with Saturday’s clash against the Montreal Impact (7 pm ET; MLS Live, TSN2 in Canada).
“We’re going to have to start to be ruthless at home,” said Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry. “We have seven games at home remaining out of the 11 games, so hopefully we can take advantage of that and play well and carry on with what we’ve done [in the 2-1 win vs. the New England Revolution on Aug. 2] at home.”
For New York to return to the type of strong home form that helped them win the Supporters’ Shield a season ago, they will need to find the type of consistency that has proven far too elusive this year. The entire 2014 campaign has been plagued by severe ups and downs, with the club looking like an elite side one week and a lethargic and uninterested one the next.
The Red Bulls know they can put that all behind them and calm a rabid fan base if they can string together some victories during the stretch run, but it all starts with how they perform at home.
“It depends on how we approach each game. It depends on if guys are ready to play,” head coach Mike Petke said of having a majority of their remaining games at Red Bull Arena. “Guys turning in performances that we know they’re obviously capable of, that they’ve done many times this year, or guys, for whatever reason, it doesn’t work out and they’re not ready to play. It depends.
“We should look at these home games as three points every game. I’m confident that if they show up to play that we’re going to get three points every game.”
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Something going in the Red Bulls’ favor is that the Impact are playing on short rest, as Montreal – who ironically are in New York’s CONCACAF Champions League group – traveled to El Salvador to defeat CD FAS in group play on Wednesday. Frank Klopas’ side was down a man for the final 17 minutes of that 3-2 victory, forcing the Impact to further expend energy ahead of a trip to Red Bull Arena.
New York’s focus, however, is not on how fatigued Montreal might be coming into the weekend.
“Regardless of their form, we have to concentrate on ourselves because they want to win in the league and do well,” said Tim Cahill. “But, overall, at home, we play pretty well all the time and it’s taking that form and making sure we get all three points. You know what a win and a loss can do in this league but this weekend is pivotal to kick on.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.