Who: Philadelphia Union vs New York Red Bulls
When: Sunday, October 20th @ 3:00pm ET
Line: Philadelphia Union +104 | Draw +250 | New York Red Bulls +250
Whippany, NJ – Each New York Red Bulls season of the Luis Robles era, which began in 2012 and shows no imminent sign of wrapping up, has ended in the same fashion. The goalkeeper sits, looking up from a low stool in front of his locker into a phalanx of recording devices. He painstakingly searches for the correct words to explain yet another disappointing end to one more unfulfilling season for the title free MLS originals.
Following training Wednesday afternoon, in preparation for Sunday’s first round playoff showdown against Philadelphia Union, High Press Soccer asked the 35 year-old Red Bulls captain, “What’s going to be different this year? Why will it be different?”
“It’s a really good question,” Robles began, “and I don’t know the answer. But maybe all the other years when I felt like man, this is our year, this is our year and it wasn’t our year; this year could be the outlier.”
Perhaps mindful of providing the Union with bulletin board material, Robles immediately sought to clarify.
“I’m not saying that. Please don’t misinterpret this. (But) I think this team can make a run and can do something special this year.”
Is this year finally the year?
So, why this year? Why not 2013, 2015, or 2018, seasons that the Red Bulls won the Supporters Shield? “Maybe,” Robles considered, “the expectations 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. So I think we’re going to make some noise.”
Robles is right, of course. No one is counting on the Red Bulls to go to the Eastern Conference Finals, let alone the MLS Cup Final. In fact, three out of four High Press Soccer pundits – this one included – have selected Philadelphia to end New York’s season on Sunday.
The Union finished the campaign in 3rd place with 55 points, having chased the top spot for most of the season, while New York finished with 48 points, one season after garnering a then league record 71 points, a record LAFC eclipsed by a single point this year.
Armas is looking for consistency
Consistency was a big issue for the Red Bulls this season, as exemplified by the 3-0 beating hung on New York by also-rans Montreal in the club’s Decision Day season finale. High Press Soccer noted to Red Bulls coach Chris Armas that the loss to the Impact, coming as it did after some good recent results, was part of a pattern of play that saw his side stumble following a couple of good results more than once this season, and inquired whether that inconsistency concerned him entering the playoffs?
“Yeah,” Armas conceded. “I mean, I think you don’t want to stumble too often.” Armas continued: “You want to be able to rebound back quickly. And the team has mostly been able to come back quickly, I would say. But yeah,” Armas went on, searching, “I mean when we’ve talked about trying to put back to back performances, 90 minute performances, and when you can’t do that consistently yet, you have to ask questions. Why is that happening? Right? So I think it’s a good question.”
A question the Red Bulls coach is still trying to figure out.
“There’s been lots of reasons, sometimes it’s there’s no one answer.” “But it’s it’s something,” Armas continued, “that, there’s been lots of reasons why and we come to the conclusion at times, sometimes it’s there’s no one answer but we’ve had to look hard and in that Montreal game specifically. Yes, it comes off with three straight games shutouts, two massive wins – one on the road – and then a stalemate with DC United.”
Armas, though, expressed confidence in his team’s ability to put the Montreal match behind them. “We call it a bump in the road, that one because we feel pretty good right now.”
Will past failures fuel success this year?
So, will this year be different? HPS asked Armas what he would tell Red Bulls loyalists.
“Yeah, there’s a trophy, there’s always a goal in mind and that means if you look at it one way, it’s one team or one person happy, individual sports, tennis, whatever, and then everyone’s disappointed. I mean, then, yeah, you play a whole career just disappointed.”
Armas explained that “oftentimes, you want to feel proud of the work that you do and know that excellence and trophies is the goal. And oftentimes you fall short.”
For Armas that falling short informs his approach. “It has made us hungrier, it makes you show up every day to work the right way and think about the right things and care about the people you work with.”
Speaking of the Red Bulls faithful, Armas said, “they’ve been with us and I know that there has to be disappointment.” “Because,” the coach acknowledged, “They want what we want and we want what they want and when you don’t have it, yeah, it comes out with frustration and being critical. I understand it.”
Then Armas returns to the question. “What makes it different this year? I’d say that we’ve come at it from different angles, and I’d say we’re hungrier, hungrier than we’ve ever been.” But it is not just hunger that Armas is banking on. “I think we are tactically better than we’ve been, ever, in terms of how we’ve prepared and what we’ve been up against.”
Armas points to, “an entire year of facing teams that want to play direct and long balls and trying to be disruptive. We’ve had to face adversity, injuries or whatever you want to say. We’re still standing. We haven’t got it. We’re still standing.”
Will the Red Bulls still be standing Sunday night? Robles thinks so.
“I’m the eternal optimist. I just feel good about our guys. I feel good about our coaching situation. That’s who I am, is an optimistic person, and I’m hoping that manifests, permeates throughout the locker room and when you have optimism and you have talent, and everyone is playing the way that we want to play that may manifest into an MLS Cup.”