HARRISON, N.J. – Playing the Philadelphia Union with their backs against the wall, you’d expect the star-studded New York Red Bulls to put their talent on full display, turning on the style to get the win they needed to make the MLS Cup Playoffs.
You’d be wrong.
“We have given away a lot of unforced errors in our buildup [this season] when we’ve tried to come out from the back four,” head coach Hans Backe said. “We said for this game it had to be a quite direct game. It has to be cynical.”
And New York obliged their coach. Tough challenges from a midfield that included defensive specialists Rafa Márquez, Teemu Tainio and Dax McCarty frustrated the Union buildup all night, and ultimately earned the Red Bulls their third consecutive clean sheet at home.
“They got into tackles hard,” defender Tim Ream said. “They won a lot of 50/50s. That’s not something that we’ve had on a consistent basis for whatever reason. Them doing that makes our job in the back 10 times easier. It makes it more exciting for us, less stressful for sure.”
With the win, the Red Bulls clinched a berth in the MLS playoffs. But whereas they finished atop the Eastern Conference in 2010, New York were the last team to book their ticket to the playoffs this season.
“I think there’s a lot of teams [in the playoffs] that doesn’t want to see the Red Bulls,” right back Jan Gunnar Solli said. “I think we can be a little bit like a dark horse.”
Midfielder Joel Lindpere noted that the recent uptick in the Red Bulls’ form – three wins in their last six games – may be a result of having most of their players available and healthy after a summer that saw multiple departures due to injury and international duty.
But in order to repeat Thursday’s performance, the Red Bulls will have to remain healthy through the playoffs.
“It was great to have Rafa and Teemu in front of us breaking everything up and winning tackles and getting in hard and picking up a few injuries – hopefully, they’re not too serious,” Ream said with a smile, before adding, “whenever you’re getting into tackles hard, it’s bound to happen.”