With a 1-0 win over Orlando City SC, the Red Bulls surpassed Atlanta United to win the Supporters’ Shield, their third in the last six years, while setting a new league record for most points in a single season in the process.
“I know you don’t get credit in this league for winning the Shield, but it’s the hardest thing to win,” forward Bradley Wright-Phillips said after the game. “We’ve won that three times in six years, I’m proud to be on this team.”
Head coach Chris Armas was delighted for the players, knowing that their day-to-day work and routine has been rewarded with a trophy for consistency. He understands the team’s style of play requires a ton of effort and discipline.
“I’m so happy for the organization and the players … to see the guys get rewarded, it justifies everything,” Armas, who took over as head coach midseason after Jesse Marsch departed for Europe, said. “You can’t take that away, it’s a massive accomplishment for the guys, best team in the league after 34 games, it’s incredible. They’re an incredible group of guys, players and people. And that makes you feel good to be a part of that.”
Homegrown attacker Derrick Etienne Jr. played the role of hero for the Red Bulls, but had to persevere through adversity to do so. After Wright-Phillips was taken down in the box in the 15th minute, Etienne Jr. stepped up to take the ensuing penalty.
With a confident run-up to strike the ball, Etienne saw his effort saved by Orlando goalkeeper Adam Grinwis. He later admitted it was a “terrible PK,” but wasn’t going to let it spoil his afternoon.
“I missed a PK, I thought ‘Was that really my chance? Nah, I’m not going to go like that.’ I was able to get another opportunity and finish it,” Etienne said after the game, with his feet damp from champagne and a smile on his face. “I was like ‘Yeah, that was supposed to happen last time.’ So it was a good feeling.”
That subsequent opportunity was well taken. In the 53rd minute, Etienne got defender Shane O’Neill 1v1 and said he had a good feeling about what might happen next. Dribbling left into the 18-yard box, Etienne flashed a stepover then cut back to his favored right foot with a fake shot that opened up ample room to fire into the bottom corner.
“I’m very confident against any defender in the league going 1v1,” Etienne Jr. said. “I knew he was going to bite for the cut. Just keep it low and I was able to finish it.”
Etienne Jr.’s teammates were ecstatic with the 21-year-old’s mental fortitude to recover from the miss, but no one was surprised.
“Excitement for me -- that’s my closest friend,” midfielder Tyler Adams said. “To see him miss a PK in the first half, it’s tough. But it’s all about how he’s going to bounce back. He has a calm confidence to him, everyone knows that. He did his thing out there.”
Wright-Phillips echoed Adams’ sentiment.
“If anyone can tell you about missing penalties, it’s me,” Wright-Phillips said. “I’m more proud of how he bounced back. I’ve seen people go missing after that, [they would] rather be subbed off. But Derrick, man, being how he is, he’s a confident guy. Being how he is, he steps up and scores the winner today. Credit to him.”
The Red Bulls needed more than just Etienne’s winner to secure the Shield, though. They needed a favor from Toronto FC, who were hosting Atlanta. Thankfully for New York, TFC were in a generous mood.
For the entirety of the match, Red Bull Arena showed the Toronto-Atlanta score underneath the Red Bulls' score on the jumbotron. ATL’s scoreline was smaller only by the finest margins and unmissable when gazing at the screen. The players admit they couldn’t help but look.
“I wasn’t paying attention because before the game we just got told to play our game, win at home like we normally do,” Wright-Phillips said. “But at some point during the game, Kaku runs by me and is like ‘Toronto. 1-0!’ then just ran off. Then I was checking the scoreboard all through the game. It was nice to know.”
Before turning their attention on the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs, which the players held on their minds even throughout Sunday’s celebrations, the club isn’t about to overlook the Shield.
“What an amazing feeling, to do it with this group of guys that are so special,” defender Aaron Long said. “It’s so special to do it with this group of guys, our fans deserve it.”