HARRISON, N.J. — Despite playful objections from this reporter, who happens to be a proud Virgo, New York Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch and his team could not be more ecstatic to have been taking part in a game and have it not occur in the month of September.
Putting in a dominant display from the opening kickoff, New York enjoyed goals from Daniel Royer, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Felipe as the Red Bulls cruised to a 3-0 victory over the Western Conference-leading Vancouver Whitecaps, snapping the team’s eight-game winless streak in league play. The win, its first over a Major League Soccer club since Aug. 12, also allowed the Red Bulls to clinch the final playoff spot up for grabs in the Eastern Conference.
The Red Bulls’ place in the playoffs would have been locked down much sooner if not for a disastrous September, one in which New York went winless in league play and garnered only two out of a possible 18 points on offer. Four of those six games ended in ties, with three of those games ending in a deadlock after the Red Bulls blew a second-half lead.To boot, the Red Bulls lost to Sporting Kansas City in the U.S. Open Cup Final late last month, missing a chance to win their first major trophy in the 21-year history of the franchise.
There’s no wondering why the Red Bulls were more than happy to say “good riddance” to the ninth month of 2017.
“The timing of the schedule to have September end, I think all of us we’re like, ‘September’s over,'” Marsch said relievedly after the game. “September’s up. Time to move on. Disappointment. We turned the page, and I think now, looking forward, we think there are real possibilities here, right? We can’t get ahead of ourselves and we know that based on the way that September went, that we dug ourselves a little bit of a hole for what the playoffs will be.”
At the very least, the Red Bulls know that the playoffs will be a reality for an eighth straight season, the second-longest active consecutive playoff streak in the league (and the longest of any New York area professional sports team). Royer got on the board just after the half-hour mark, taking a pass from Adams after a deft step-over of that pass by Wright-Phillips, taking a couple of defenders out of the play. Royer then finished his left foot past Vancouver goalkeeper David Ousted to score his 11th goal of the season, second on the team behind Wright-Phillips’s 15.
Early in the second half, Wright-Phillips made it 16 goals on the season, latching onto an Adams pass near midfield and getting past the last defender to have a one-on-one opportunity with Ousted. It was an opportunity he capitalized on when he chipped the ball over Ousted and into the net to double the Red Bulls’ advantage in the 58th minute.
Felipe rounded out the scoring with a long-range drive that took a deflection off of a Vancouver defender and past Ousted in the 72nd minute. Overall, New York outshot Vancouver 18-3 in the contest, with half of the Red Bulls’ attempts being on target. New York held the Whitecaps without a shot in the first half, and Vancouver only managed one shot on target for the entire game.
It is looking likely that the Red Bulls will be the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, a departure from the past few years that have seen New York ranked consistently in the top three in the conference going into the playoffs. Even with their recent struggles, going into the playoffs without those lofty expectations could prove to be something of a positive going into the postseason.
“I think this group will relish being the underdog,” said Marsch. “We’ve been the favorite. We’ve had the target on our back, and I think this is the kind of group that will enjoy having everybody think that they can’t achieve their goals. Yeah, we’re excited for the next few weeks.”
The Red Bulls are probably just as excited about that than the fact the 2017 calendar doesn’t read “September” anymore.