HARRISON, N.J. – When the lights shine brightest and the pressure is at its most intense, some teams inevitably crumble under the weight of the occasion. Don’t put this New York Red Bulls team in that category.
Following Sunday’s thorough 3-0 dismantling of longtime rivals D.C. United at home, the Red Bulls have once again proven to be a team that produces some of its best soccer when the intensity gets ramped up. After sweeping the season series against New York City FC, the Red Bulls collected seven of a possible nine points against their Atlantic Cup rivals, a United side that they happen to be chasing for Eastern Conference supremacy.
“In a lot of these big games, like playing D.C. earlier in the year, it made us better because we respect the team that they are,” head coach Jesse Marsch said. “Playing those games against New York City and understanding how to handle those big games when the spotlight is on and that’s made us better. We’re more prepared for what big games are like and we’re ready to perform.”
Following a disappointing road loss against the last place Chicago Fire on Wednesday, the Red Bulls had little time to lament their poor performance before doing battle with the pacesetters in the Eastern Conference. The sour taste left over from Wednesday, coupled with the intensity that comes with a top of the table clash, made for one of the most complete performances turned in by New York this season.
“We had a big sense of disappointment [after Wednesday], for sure,” midfielder Sacha Kljestan said. “Jesse said right after the game that we were going to come back against D.C. and get a win at home and forget about Wednesday. We put our foot on the gas pedal and went out to get them from the first minute. We probably had the most dominating performance we’ve had this season so that felt really good.”
Not much needed to be said in the buildup to the match to get the squad up for what many labeled the most important match of the year. They came out with the proper attitude, putting D.C. under the gun from the opening whistle. It paid off with a huge victory, one that pulled the Red Bulls – who have three games in hand on United – within three points of the conference leaders and gave them the best points per game average in the league.
“We have the right mentality going in to these games,” said Lloyd Sam, who scored Sunday’s first goal. “When you look at these results you can tell that we’re going in with the right mindset. We knew the task today, but it’s never easy against D.C. Looking at the league [table] it was a big game and we all turned up which was good to see.”