HANOVER, N.J. – The champagne may have been flowing in Chicago, but the New York Red Bulls aren’t expecting to endure any sort of hangover after lifting the Supporters’ Shield.
At least not this time.
With the regular season now in the rear-view mirror, the Red Bulls have returned to the training pitch in preparation for the Eastern Conference semifinals on Sunday. And while their opponent is still unknown, New York will certainly have their work cut out for them.
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As the Supporters’ Shield holders, history isn’t exactly on their side. Only twice in the past 12 seasons has the regular season champion gone on to win MLS Cup (’08 Crew, ’11 Galaxy), and several players within this group are all too familiar with that troubling trend given their own early playoff exit after New York claimed the shield in 2013.
Two years removed, captain Dax McCarty is determined to write a new script this time around.
“We can’t get complacent and start feeling good about ourselves because the minute we do, we can find ourselves with our season over,” he said. “The shield won’t mean much if we don’t go on and win MLS Cup. We just have to make sure that we do exactly what we’ve been doing all season.”
While the playoff format has changed over the years, shield winners have continually struggled to win the league’s ultimate prize at year’s end. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise to head coach Jesse Marsch, who has made an effort to “refocus” his group on the task at hand.
“We have no advantage, really,” Marsch said of his team’s standing as shield-holders. “Even though we’ve had the best season we’re really not rewarded for it until a month from now. Now we start from scratch like everyone else does and we have to fight for everything that we want to get. We just need to maintain that mentality of being hungry and not being satisfied.”
Winning a piece of silverware has undoubtedly been a gratifying moment for a side that has fought against low outside expectations all season, but the feeling within the camp is one of a job not yet complete. The marathon of the regular season is in the books, but the all-important sprint to the finish line is only just getting started.
“We’ve turned the page,” winger Mike Grella said after training. “We set out from Day 1 to win [MLS Cup] and we haven’t done that yet. If we didn’t really go after it because we were still hung up on the Supporters’ Shield or patting ourselves on the back, we’d all be letting ourselves down and we’d be kicking ourselves after it’s all said and done.”