RBNY are the Eastern Conference’s No. 7 seed, after all, needing a Decision Day result to earn this Round One visit to Philly, the No. 2 seed.
But head coach Gerhard Struber’s team isn’t short on confidence. Rather, they see last year’s Supporters’ Shield winner that made the 2021 Concacaf Champions League semifinals as merely another obstacle.
“I think Philly’s one step further like us. They have a group with different age, they have a group that plays longer together,” Struber said. "But I think right now in our momentum, with all that we learn the last few months, we can beat Philly. This is the big goal on Saturday.
“We drive not to Philly for ‘nice to be in the playoffs.’ I think right now it’s the time to go in the next round. We [have] big respect for Philly, but we win on Saturday. That’s it.”
Struber’s perspective is molded by RBNY’s turnaround over the last third of the regular season, when they posted a 7W-1L-4D record from mid-September onwards. The Austrian manager’s youthful squad overcame a rash of backline injuries and persistent issue of points dropped, ultimately finishing tied for the fewest goals conceded (33) in MLS.
They’ve also scored the fewest goals (39) of the league’s 14 playoff-bound teams, relying on the all-pressing RBNY system to grind out results. Goalkeeper Carlos Coronel, center back Sean Nealis, center midfielder Sean Davis and strikers Patryk Klimala and Fabio are the centerpieces – even if there isn’t a league-wide star.
Whatever the mix, it’s working for a club that defied odds to reach a 12th consecutive postseason.
“This is a playoff game with a special mental tension in every single player,” Struber said. “I think everyone knows after this game, you go in the next round and we will take the chance. I think we have a big conviction, a big confidence right now about our process, about our style of play. We know right now how dangerous [our way] can be for every opponent in this league. We have to use that.”
The win-or-go-home scenario at Subaru Park is similar to what RBNY have encountered over the last two months. They needed near-maximum points to outlast the likes of D.C. United, Columbus Crew and CF Montréal for the East’s seventh and final playoff spot.
Those battles inject belief in Struber’s team, and he feels they’re prepared to book a Conference Semifinal date. The Red Bulls and Philly, who dramatically met in the 2019 playoffs, have battled to 1-1 draws the last two times they’ve clashed, both coming at Red Bull Arena.
“Maybe our advantage is a little bit the last two weeks, we feel every single game is a little bit [of] a knockout game to come into the playoffs or to leave after the regular season,” Struber said. “Now, I think we have some experience in games where it’s much pressure in the bottle. Now we have to bring the right tension, the right balance on Saturday and then we are ready for a fight.”