BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Years of MLS Cup Playoffs heartbreak seem to have set the 2017 New York Red Bulls free.
After two consecutive seasons entering the postseason as the Eastern Conference’s top seed only to crash out before MLS Cup, the Red Bulls may have found a new confidence as the No. 6 seed hoping to embark on a deep run in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs.
“Yeah, pressure is off a little bit,” Sacha Kljestan said after contributing a goal and assist to Wednesday’s 4-0 win at the third-seeded Chicago Fire. “Internally we’ll always have pressure on ourselves because we want to win and we want to be champions and that’s what comes along with it, but from the outside I just feel like we’re the six seed, we’ve got nothing to lose, we’re going up against the best team in MLS history in Toronto with these great attacking players.”
After handily beating the Fire in the Knockout Round, the mood in the visiting Red Bulls’ locker room was light, with words like "calm" and "confident" continually resurfacing.
“I think there is a confidence right now with the group,” goalkeeper Luis Robles said. “It starts at the top and goes all the way down to the end. The sort of effort that we put out today shows the confidence, at least from a playing standpoint, but in the locker room, there’s an ease to the guys right now."
"I think a lot of that can go back to the way that we the handled US Open Cup, because of the way it ended we feel like we have unfinished [business] but we’re not in a panic because we’ve been through this before," he said. "I like to think or at least attribute our confidence to that.”
As coach Jesse Marsch said in his post-match press conference, “there’s a quiet calmness with this group that I think is palpable. So I’ve just got to continue to find ways to enforce certain things and almost stay out of the way. That will be my goal moving forward.”
For as good as the Red Bulls are feeling heading into the Eastern Conference semifinals, they know that they are up against a uniquely tough task in Toronto FC. The Supporters’ Shield winners beat New York, 4-2, in their most recent meeting in Toronto and earned a 1-1 draw at Red Bull Arena earlier in the season. They'll open their Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the Reds on Monday at Red Bull Arena (7 pm ET; FS1 in the US | TSN4, TVAS in Canada).
“Toronto is a very good team. The reason why we haven’t beaten them is because they’re a good team,” Marsch said. “They played very well against us at Red Bull Arena, we were lucky to get out of there with a draw and then actually up in Toronto I thought we played very well and were a little bit unlucky to give up two late goals the way we did.
“We know them well, we respect them massively. I think Greg Vanney’s done a great job. Obviously their [Designated Players] dictate everything they do. I think for me Michael Bradley has been the MVP of the league this year. So it’ll be an incredibly big challenge but one that I know we will be up for, one that we will be really excited for and we will be ready to go.”
Robles welcomed the challenge, sounding every bit like a world-weary veteran as he looked ahead to Toronto.
“We know it’s going to be a tough one but nonetheless, why not?” Robles said. “At this point, the amount of playoff experience I have, I figure if we’re going to do this thing we might as well play against the best, because I just, I don’t know, it’s just a difference for me mentally right now.”