New York Red Bulls take East's pole position: "The boys are growing"

A couple of asterisks are involved, but through Sunday night, the New York Red Bulls took sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference standings.

That was the byproduct of a 1-0 win at Sporting Kansas City, led by US men’s national team center back Aaron Long’s 53rd-minute set-piece header and resolute defense that weathered a 73rd-minute red card to Sean Nealis following Video Review.

With 32 points through 19 matches (9W-5L-5D record), it’s RBNY who all 13 other Eastern Conference clubs are chasing.

“We can’t let it get to our heads, every point matters,” said homegrown left back John Tolkin. “Obviously, we’re in a good place right now. If you compare it to last season, I think we’re just doing so much better. We have a really tight group right now and we’re taking it game-by-game.”

As for those caveats, a significant one is the Red Bulls have played one or two more games than their nearest three competitors in the East: Philadelphia Union, CF Montréal and New York City FC. And the other is Montréal still could leapfrog them Monday night when closing out Week 18 with a visit to the LA Galaxy (10:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+).

But that shouldn’t detract from the progress being charted on the red portion of New York, having made the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs in the seventh-and-final spot. Now, the three-time Supporters’ Shield winners (last won in 2018) appear a serious contender just beyond the 2022 season’s midway point.

This latest step, at SKC, marked New York’s league-leading sixth road victory of the year. They hadn’t won at Children’s Mercy Park since Oct. 26, 2014.

“They’re a really good team at home,” Long said. “I don’t know if I’ve ever won here with this group since my time. I think our last win we were saying in the locker room was 2014 when Bradley [Wright-Phillips] tied the goal record with 27 goals and the Golden Boot, so it’s been a long time.”

In late April, New York equaled the 1998 LA Galaxy's feat of starting a season with five straight road wins. But they’d slipped away from Red Bull Arena before this July 4th weekend triumph, dropping consecutive 2-0 results at Inter Miami CF, Charlotte FC and LAFC.

The bounceback makes it even sweeter for head coach Gerhard Struber’s side, which continues to grow as new attacking centerpieces like Lewis Morgan and Luquinhas leave their mark.

“In this direction, we can see the boys are growing,” Struber said. “The boys had power to bring the points home in such a tough environment. I’m proud of also a situation like that; it’s not always technical or tactical highlights. Today was a fighting highlight and also in this direction today we showed an interesting phase.”