HARRISON, N.J. -- It is eight postseasons in a row for the New York Red Bulls, who finally booked their trip to the 2017 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs on Saturday with a 3-0 home win over the Vancouver Whitecaps that was as crucial as it was dominant.
It wasn’t supposed to take this long for one of the league's most successful teams in recent history to clinch, even after considering the tumultuous offseason that included the dismissal of sporting director Ali Curtis and the trade of captain Dax McCarty to the Chicago Fire for allocation money.
But after an injury onslaught and a September to forget, coach Jesse Marsch's men appear to have finally turned it around.
"We were all disappointed with the results," Marsch said. "But we continued to feel that we were playing well, and it was just a matter of time before we were going to start to have it add up more.
“In terms of getting the result now, it's good in terms of releasing some anxiety about making the playoffs, but the key for us will be to continue to have urgency and hunger to improve and play in meaningful matches because once playoffs come, you know, now it's do-or-die time.”
The Red Bulls haven’t missed the playoffs since moving into Red Bull Arena in 2010, an eight-year streak that is second only to the Seattle Sounders' nine consecutive playoff appearances.
“It’s obviously always a goal of New York Red Bull to get into the playoffs,” Wright-Phillips said. “And we’ve achieved that and we have to go further than we’ve been before. We have to all be ready for this fight that’s coming up.”
And over the past four years, they’ve twice lifted the Supporters' Shield for the league’s best regular season record, won the Eastern Conference three times during that stretch, and made the US Open Cup Final a month ago.
But an MLS Cup appearance has eluded them since 2008, something they now can turn their focus to in full having qualified for the playoffs.
In preseason, Marsch said that with the roster overhaul and with young players set to play significant roles, that winning the Supporters' Shield or the even the conference title might be difficult. Captain Sacha Kljestan, who had two assists on Saturday, said that he along with Wright-Phillips and goalkeeper Luis Robles spoke to the team about the “learning curve” they might face and what that might mean come playoff time.
“Me, Brad and Luis talked about the pressure might be off as we get to the playoffs and we're a little bit of a lower seed," said Kljestan. "Obviously, I didn’t think we’d end up being the sixth seed, I thought we’d be a little bit higher than that."
“Yes, the pressure is off in a small way but hopefully we can surprise some people and go on a run.”