WASHINGTON -- After spoiling the RFK Stadium finale, Luis Robles believes his New York Red Bulls side can replicate that result when everything is on the line in a Knockout Round clash this Wednesday, against the Chicago Fire and former Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty (8:30 pm ET | UniMas, FS1, TSN 3/5)
Who can blame him?
It was a makeshift Red Bulls side that, while resting Bradley Wright-Phillips, Sacha Kljestan, and Daniel Royer, pulled off a stunning 2-1 victory over 10-man D.C. United before 41,418 fans on East Capitol Street.
That win makes it seven out of nine points to close the season and enter the 2017 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. And the Red Bulls have already proven their ability in knockout competition in this year's U.S. Open Cup final run, including an impressive 3-2 extra time semifinal win at FC Cincinnati.
"You look back to the U.S. Open Cup, and our path to the final wasn’t very easy," Robles said. "We played a lot of games on the road in a lot of tough venues. And there’s something about the spirit of this team that leaves me feeling confident that no matter where we go, we’re going to be up for it and we’re going to do what it takes to get there."
It took all of that spirit, plus a sensational equalizer from Michael Murillo, and a silly red card by D.C. talisman Luciano Acosta, for the Red Bulls to earn their 11th and final MLS league win at RFK.
It was a gritty victory that bore many of McCarty's personality traits when he played for New York, before he moved to Chicago in a trade last January for allocation money. And although the Red Bulls still acknowledge their fondness for "the Ginger Ninja," they insist they're ready for the reality of a win-or-go-home battle against him. The Red Bulls took four points from matches with the Fire this season.
"We love Dax," said defender Kemar Lawrence. "When we meet him, or after games, you can see the energy, the vibe between us. It’s always there. The friendship, it’s always there. But we have who we have, and we wouldn’t trade who we have for anybody. We’re locked in and we’re ready to go."
Outside back Connor Lade agreed.
"Dax is big part of their team, but they’ve got a lot of other good players that make them the team that they are," he said. "I’m sure that in the media it’s going to be a bigger story than in our locker room."
The Red Bulls also find themselves in the unfamiliar position of the sixth and final Eastern Conference seed after entering as the East's best team in three of the last four seasons.
Robles rejected the notion that his side could fly under the radar as a team getting hot at just the right time.
"The problem is, too many people are saying that now," Robles said. "The last three games, we play well, and everyone’s like, oh, the New York Red Bulls are the dark horse, or the New York Red Bulls are going to surprise a lot of people."