HARRISON, N.J. – For the majority of their stretch run towards the playoffs, it seemed no one within the New York Red Bulls locker room wanted to talk about hardware. But that all changed on Sunday afternoon.
Following an emphatic 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Union, head coach Jesse Marsch addressed the over 21,000 in attendance at Red Bull Arena on Fan Appreciation Day, finally admitting something he’d been so cautious to avoid.
“We’re going after the Shield,” he said, “then we’re going after [MLS] Cup!”
Ever since the Supporters' Shield became a realistic target in the dog days of summer, Marsch made a concerted effort to avoid talking about it, so as to not heap pressure on his players. But with just one game remaining in the regular season – a victory in Chicago next week will almost assuredly earn RBNY a second Shield in three years – Marsch unabashedly threw caution to the wind.
“I think we’ve put ourselves in a position to go after things,” he said in his postgame press conference. “We’re going to have to earn it by going to Chicago, in a place we’ve never won. Dallas keeps pushing their team and I respect the way that they’ve played and the job that their coach has done. We’re going to have to go out on the field and from the first minute, like we did tonight, go after the game.”
Following a loss in Toronto in which Marsch stated that all 11 starters weren’t up for the gravity of the moment, the Red Bulls needed to bounce back on short rest. Coupled with a FC Dallas win on Saturday night, suddenly the pressure was notched up to a whole different level. Needing to keep pace against a Union side that had given them trouble throughout 2015, captain Dax McCarty liked his team’s chances.
“I told the guys that I was happy Dallas won [on Saturday night],” he said. “It put more pressure on us and I think that this team steps up when the pressure is on the most. I told the guys before the game that good teams, good players want to step up in the spotlight and be involved in high-pressure games.
“That’s when you really see what character comes out, and I thought the response in the first half was unbelievable.”
Often overused, “unbelievable” may just be an apt description of the first 45 minutes at Red Bull Arena. Not only did New York slot four past a hapless Philadelphia defense, but winger Mike Grella set an MLS record in the process, scoring just seven seconds into the match.
“It’s awesome to have those things, but it’s more important to be on a winning team,” Grella stated. “I just thank God. It’s a lucky thing, a blessed thing. It’s a lot of hard work paying off and I feel blessed.
“Now all my thoughts are looking forward. I’m just looking forward to winning something with this team. We have this opportunity and we have to take it now.”