Aaron Long, Tim Parker celebrate goal vs. NE
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

How New York Red Bulls changed the course of their season and clinched an 11th straight MLS Cup Playoffs berth

In each of last three games, all clashes against Eastern Conference opposition fighting for playoff positioning, the New York Red Bulls have found a late goal. They’ve been different situations, and different players to score — Brian White netted the first two stoppage-time equalizers, while Aaron Long scored the 89th-minute winner against the New England Revolution Wednesday night.

But there’s no denying each goal's importance.

“Its really season-changing goals because if we don’t score those late goals in the last three games, our season and the standings look a whole lot different right now,” goalkeeper Ryan Meara said.

And now, as a result of Long’s winner, coupled with FC Dallas’ 2-1 win over Inter Miami CF, the Red Bulls have booked a spot in the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. It is the club’s 11th consecutive postseason appearance and 21st overall.

That it happens in a tumultuous season that saw the club part ways with Chris Armas in early September makes it even more satisfying.

Highlights: New York Red Bulls 1, New England Revolution 0 

“We feel guilty, we feel responsible for our coach getting fired,” Meara said. “I think it really shows the character of the team and its a testament to every guy in the locker room that even though we had our downs for sure, we just stuck together and we’re kind of benefitting and getting the rewards for our good character right now, which is great.”

The date was Sept. 4 and the Red Bulls had just lost four of their last six when Bradley Carnell took over as interim coach.

“There’s been a wave of mixed emotions. Fourth of September we make this change and go on a different path and yeah, everyone writing us off and building for the new season,” Carnell said. “But then all of a sudden, we have the reality check, the gut check and things start stringing together. Now there’s a sense of hunger, ambition, desire, passion. A lot of these things are coming along now and a string of results.”

Rather than focus on the last three games, where the Red Bulls rallied for draws against Orlando City SC and Chicago Fire FC before defeating the Revs, Sean Davis prefers to rewind the clock a bit further for the team’s turning point of the season.

After consecutive defeats to Orlando and Inter Miami earlier this month, Davis said the team had a positive group discussion, about where they were, having honest conversations, taking accountability and a collective belief the team could, and should, be better.

The Red Bulls then defeated Atlanta United 1-0 and are unbeaten since that conversation.

“Since then it's been a strong commitment from the group, a lot of guys understand their role and when to step up and when they’re on the field to give absolutely everything they’ve got,” Davis said. “That goes a long way in terms of us getting results and that connects to the culture that we’ve been able to build here.

"There’s no better time for that mentality than now, heading into the playoffs. I think the group is happy with how we’ve progressed over the last few weeks, we’re honest about how we can improve and I think we’re all looking forward to this final stretch now.”