HANOVER, N.J. — There’s a different feeling heading into the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs than there was last year for the New York Red Bulls.
It’s somewhat of a unique feeling for goalkeeper Luis Robles, who has been part of three Supporters’ Shield-winning teams in six years and enters this postseason with the unfamiliar “underdog” tag as the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference. They will head to Philadelphia on Sunday to take on the Union, who are in search of their first playoff win (3 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes in US; TSN4, TVAS2 in Canada).
“We feel loose, we don't feel as if there's a lot of tension in our locker room or within us individually,” Robles said. “We’re ready to go, we're ready to play this game.”
Robles said the only time he felt tension was entering the 2013 postseason.
“I think it was because we finally got that monkey off our back and won that first [Supporters'] Shield,” he said.
“In 2016 we were 20 games unbeaten going into it, when you include all competitions,” Robles said. “We were loose, we were ready to play. There’s been a lot of disappointment.” That season ended with the Montreal Impact knocking them out in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The Red Bulls seem to thrive with that chip-on-their-shoulder mentality. It was one that former head coach Jesse Marsch often talked about, not getting the deserved respect around the league. Chris Armas has continued that narrative, including last year when he said the Red Bulls weren’t lauded enough for a record-breaking regular season.
“I think it's real,” defender Tim Parker said. “I think, even as good as we can be, I still think that when we get good performances, we don't get the praise that we deserve or something like that. We don't want it at that point. I think we like where we stand and we like where people look at us.”
The Red Bulls dropped 23 points year over year and went from the top team in the regular season to the No. 6 seed in the East. This road to the playoffs this season has been a bumpy one, with the Red Bulls dealing with adversity in the form of injuries to key players like Aaron Long, Kemar Lawrence and Bradley Wright-Phillips and opponents changing their tactics and playing more direct and combative.
But Armas believes all of those experiences makes the Red Bulls’ battle-tested and ready to make a run.
“We feel like we’ve been put to the test as a team, like really tested, in a lot of ways. And we feel stronger for it,” Armas said. “Only adversity can do that to you, otherwise you're just talking about when things come and tough moments come. But we really feel like we’ve had to ask tough questions to ourselves as staff to tactics to our style of play, how can you evolve things how can individuals be better.”
Underdog? No chance? Robles likes that narrative. It suits the Red Bulls’ mentality a lot better than being the favorites.
“I think this team can make a run and can do something special this year,” Robles said. “But maybe the expectations over the last four or five years have been so lofty and so high, we’ve been the favorites going in, whereas this year, we're not on anyone's radar, we’re not the favorites. I think we’re going to make some noise.”