HARRISON, N.J. — There is a level of pride and satisfaction for what the New York Red Bulls accomplished in 2018, for setting a new MLS record for points in a season and winning a third Supporters’ Shield title in six years.
If Bradley Wright-Phillips was in London or Manchester, that would have resulted in a parade through the heart of the city.
The only parading Major League Soccer team in 2018 was Atlanta United, the winner of MLS Cup, while the Red Bulls endured a 23rd year of postseason frustration.
“You go from that to looking like you had a bad season,” Wright-Phillips said. “It’s crazy, but that's how it is. That’s how it is here and we know that unless we bring an MLS Cup here that's how it's going to be.”
Make no mistake, the MLS Cup is the ultimate goal for the Red Bulls, who begin Year 24 against Columbus Crew SC on Saturday (4:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+ in US, DAZN in Canada) at MAPFRE Stadium. With the bulk of last year’s core intact and one of the deepest rosters in the league, the Red Bulls are considered one of the favorites to be the last team standing in late November.
“That's what success looks like,” midfielder Sean Davis said of lifting the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy.
It’s not necessarily MLS Cup or bust for the Red Bulls, because they are quick to point out the first order of business is trying to become the first MLS team to win the Concacaf Champions League title.
They advanced to the competition’s quarterfinals for a second consecutive year on Wednesday whey they defeated Atletico Pantoja from the Dominican Republic, 5-0, on aggregate.
They also tend to take the U.S. Open Cup seriously and will go full bore after Supporters’ Shield again. But they’ll do so responsibly, utilizing their depth to rotate the roster throughout the year.
“We certainly know that we're not we're not winning MLS Cup in February. But we can lose the Champions League if we're not ready,” Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said. “We have to kind of have an eye on all the prizes, but one at a time and one day at a time, but it means a lot to the club. Trophies means a lot to us as competitors.”
No one on the Red Bulls is willing to label last year a failure, especially considering the Supporters’ Shield is a clear indication of the best team throughout the course of a season. Reaching the CCL semifinals and the Eastern Conference Championship, where they lost to the eventual champion both times, is also nothing to sneeze at.
But there also wasn’t anyone especially joyous in their exit interviews after their season ended on a 3-1 aggregate loss to Atlanta last November.
“We still like love winning the Shield,” Wright-Phillips said. “That proves that you were the best team through the regular season. There’s no question. We enjoy it, it is important for us, but we know that's not really respected. At the end of the season, if we don't win MLS Cup it is going to feel like a little bit of a failure.”