HANOVER, N.J. – Historically slow starters, the New York Red Bulls have raced out of the gate in 2015 despite facing three of their first four games on the road, and all four of those against 2014 playoff teams. Those results have given New York the highest points-per-game average in the league and pushed the team to the top of the MLSsoccer.com Power Rankings.
So one could be forgiven for expecting similar success from a three-game homestand that includes two teams who failed to reach last year's postseason.
Don’t expect those within the Red Bulls camp to share the sentiment.
“That happens a lot in MLS,” midfielder Lloyd Sam said of his team’s fast start. “That happened to Dallas in the past; they always seem to start well. A lot of teams start well, then toward the end of the season, they’re not really around. It’s something we’re aware of, and we want to stay on top of that and not let complacency come into it.”
At 2-0-2, the Red Bulls trail D.C. United by two points in the Eastern Conference but have a game in hand on their rivals, who they beat on March 22 and tied last Saturday. They open a three-game homestand on Friday night against the San Jose Earthquakes (7 pm ET, UniMás, match preview), a team already tied for second in MLS with three wins despite missing out on last year's playoffs.
New York's hot start comes one year after the Red Bulls failed to win their first match of the season until their seventh fixture. Well aware of the club's tendency to stagger out of the gate in the spring, veteran Dax McCarty is not taking the hot start for granted.
“We take it game by game, but [slow starts were] always a problem in the past for us,” McCarty admitted. “I think the guys that have been here for a long time like myself, like Roy [Miller], like Luis [Robles], we didn’t want that to happen again. [Head coach] Jesse [Marsch] has really emphasized that we don’t want to be a team that’s inconsistent and all over the place. The D.C. game [last week], we didn’t play our best, but I think we’ve been pretty consistent over the first four games of the season, and the results have shown that.”
That consistency has been attributed in large part to Marsch and his ability to provide clarity to roles throughout the roster, a trait perhaps missing in years past.
“The management’s come in very focused with what they want us to do,” Sam added. “That’s probably the main difference. We’ve got a clear style of play and direction. We know how we want to play.”
Marsch, in turn, credits his players' mindset and their ability to demand the best from one another, day in and day out.
“I continue to challenge them to make sure that we [don't get ahead of ourselves]," Marsch said. "They get it, and their ability to push each other every day has meant that we have a chance to continue to be successful. It also has a lot to do with not just one or two guys, but 10 guys, 15 guys that on the inside every day don’t congratulate themselves too much, and come to work and make sure that they’re ready to put as much in as they did they day before, if not more.
“The key for me right now is to not be satisfied with early success, but to keep driving this thing and pushing this thing so that early success leads to season-long success. They get that. We’ve made little reminders within the group. They’re committed to it. It’s a lot because we have great leaders in this team.”
McCarty, the captain, has been with the club since 2011, and while he certainly appreciates the club's best start since 2007, he and his teammates remain more focused on the long haul.
“It’s always been a frustrating start to the season for us,” McCarty said. “But this is a bit of a different tune, a different vibe surrounding the team, and our results have shown that. It’s not easy when you start the season off on the wrong foot; everyone’s pointing fingers, everyone’s asking questions. The key for us in order to keep going forward and progressing is to keep that hunger, keep that mentality like we haven’t done anything yet.”