HANOVER, N.J. – After years of playoff disappointment, the New York Red Bulls might finally have developed a formula to help them break down the better teams in the league.
So far this year, the Red Bulls have beaten Atlanta United and drew Columbus Crew SC on the road, while getting home wins over NYCFC and, last weekend, FC Dallas. The ability to get results against some of the best teams in the league is a positive turnaround for a team that has found consistency in the regular season over the past three years under head coach Jesse Marsch, but has struggled against the league’s best in the playoffs.
The Red Bulls carry this run of form against table-topping teams into Sunday’s match at Toronto FC (4:30 pm ET | FOX — Full TV & streaming info). Playing at the reigning MLS Cup champions, the side that knocked them out of the postseason a year ago, is never an easy task.
This time around, however, the Red Bulls are coming in with confidence.
“I think our team – I think this is our best team, I do. I told the team at the beginning of the year that this team is going to be able to play the way we like to play, better than any other group we’ve had. And I think that is definitely the case,” RBNY head coach Jesse Marsch said on Friday following training. “And then, you know, we have an eager, hungry group that wants to show how good we are and wants to do big things this. I think that those two things have led to us having good performances against good teams.”
A major reason for the Red Bulls greater level of performances is their success in the most recent Concacaf Champions League competition. The run to the semifinals, including wins over Tijuana in both legs and a battle with eventual champion Chivas de Guadalajara, has now carried into the regular season.
Marsch said that early in the season, during the CCL, the team “sacrificed some league play to really rotate the lineup,” but that has given the team far more competition for the starting XI, as well as fresher legs as the season hits the hot, draining days of summer. That has let the Red Bulls go out and get its impressive wins against leaders in both MLS conferences.
Captain Luis Robles made the point that the Red Bulls have now been in Marsch’s system for four years, fully integrated and settled on how they want to play. There are nuances to how and what they want to challenge an individual opponent, but he notes the basic mindset doesn’t vary that much from game to game.
The CCL run earlier this year does, however, change the mentality and belief around this team — something that they certainly can take into BMO Field against the defending Cup holders on Sunday.
And perhaps, beyond that to finally make a run at their own MLS Cup.
“With that being said, I’ve been in this league long enough that, regardless of if you’re having a great run, when you’re done with the season, the playoffs are something entirely different,” Robles said. “CCL has given us an opportunity to sort of experience something that closely mimics the playoffs and I feel like we did pretty well. We were a little unlucky, and yet, again, it’s sort of a recurring thing that we just didn’t get the luck. But I will say this: Something about this group does feel different, and I’m thinking as long as we continue to stay humble and improve on past results, I think we’re building to something special, and I hope that it manifests into something great this postseason.”