UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – All of a sudden, the Red Bulls' eyes just got a little bit bigger.
Throughout the season, even as the New York started strong and stayed near the top of the Eastern Conference with their solid performances, head coach Hans Backe downplayed the results.
Consistently, Backe would say that “the goal is the playoffs, then anything can happen.” He never once laid out higher expectations than that for a club that was coming off of a last place finish a season ago.
Until now, that is.
“I’d like to win the Eastern Conference now to get the home field advantage [in the playoffs],” Backe said on Tuesday morning.
After last Friday’s 2-0 win over Los Angeles, Backe now believes his team is one that can challenge for the Eastern Conference title. After the match against the Galaxy, Backe praised his New York side and said that it was one of the best performances he’s seen from the Red Bulls all season, making league-leading LA look rather ordinary.
With the convincing victory comes a new focus. Columbus, who have been firmly atop the East since late spring, have a tough schedule to end their season and also must continue their grueling CONCACAF Champions League circuit. Backe sees an opening for the Red Bulls and, flush with confidence, is out to conquer the conference.
“[Columbus] have a hard schedule, but I think we have the possibility to win these [last] four games,” Backe said.
The Red Bulls’ calendar looks, by far, to be easier than the Crew's. As of the current standings, Real Salt Lake are the only team looking bound for the postseason. For Backe, not taking advantage of this schedule would be an egregious sin.
“That’s why we have to go for the East to win [it],” he said. “We have three home [games] and the away game is just a few hours away in Philadelphia.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012