Red Bulls showing evidence of true power

MLS' new glamour team hopes new nucleus can push them over top

UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Following last Saturday’s 4-1 win over Toronto FC, the Red Bulls are on the right path in terms of blending together their new talent. After two marquee signings this past summer in Thierry Henry and Rafa Márquez, the suddenly glamour club of the league is showing signs of performing to that level.

As the Red Bulls have begun to gel over their past five games, they've garnered eight points and now sit firmly in second place in the Eastern Conference. In fact, the team is just six points behind Columbus for first place in the East and appears to be closing in on a playoff spot.

But the Red Bulls aren’t quite ready to declare themselves MLS Cup contenders.

“I don’t think we’re ready for that quite yet,” defender Chris Albright told MLSsoccer.com. “We still have a tough road ahead of us. We have San Jose this Saturday, and Salt Lake a couple times and I think they’re as good as team in the league right now. Plus, [we play] Los Angeles on the road. I don’t think we’re ‘there’ quite yet.”

The key for New York, according to head coach Hans Backe, is keeping the players, especially his new additions, on the field and playing.

Last week before the Toronto match, both Henry and Márquez acknowledged that their fitness is holding back their effectiveness. Both joined the Red Bulls in the middle of the season at a time when they’re usually in preseason mode with their former club, Barcelona.

“I think they just have to play games, games, games, games,” Backe said of Henry and Márquez. “You always [hope] that if they play games and don’t pick up injuries, [then] they can go 90.”

The Toronto game showed a Red Bulls side that attacked well and had lots of movement on and off the ball. New York had a decided advantage in possession, shots and opportunities created as they ran over TFC’s midfield.

“It was an intense game, one of the best we’ve played so far,” Backe said.

The Red Bulls now work this week in preparation for an Earthquakes team that embarrassed them earlier this year in a 4-0 drubbing in San Jose, a match where New York was down a man for more than 80 minutes.

Now flush with confidence, the Red Bulls aren’t the same team as the May side that got run off the pitch and certainly not the same team that finished in last place a season ago.

“My goodness, we had no confidence last year,” midfielder Dane Richards told MLSsoccer.com. “No confidence whatsoever. We’d go out there last year and just want to get the game over and done. Now, we can’t wait to play because we go out there expecting to do well.”

Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012