HANOVER, N.J. – Winning the regular-season championship on Sunday would be nice and memorable, but it would only be a start.
The New York Red Bulls enter their regular-season finale against the Chicago Fire (5 pm ET, MSG) with a chance to win the Supporters’ Shield, something that would end nearly two decades of frustration and heartbreak for an organization that some diehards believe is still jinxed by "The Curse of Caricola."
There is no denying that this Red Bulls team, led by organization veteran Mike Petke, would love to reward the loyal fanbase for all its years of suffering. But accomplishing that feat with a win at Red Bull Arena on Sunday would not be the be-all, end-all for this talented New York side, no matter how sweet it would feel for the players, coaches and fans.
“It will be more than amazing to win the Supporters’ Shield, but there is something bigger than that after,” said star striker and captain Thierry Henry. “We’re going game by game. Obviously, this one has something special at the end if we manage to win the game. That’s what we’re going to try to do, but we need to not forget also that we have to concentrate on the playoffs after that. That’s also important.”
For Henry and the rest of the Red Bulls, the ultimate goal remains the MLS Cup. That would cement this team’s place in MLS history and make a statement to the rest of the league, which understandably has its share of skeptics about New York’s ability to avoid crumbling when things matter most.
“If we were in Europe and if we beat Chicago on Sunday, we would all party and go home, but that’s not the case in MLS,” said Henry. “We need to concentrate and make sure that you can finish the job after. It would be something amazing because we haven’t done it here, but the goal is always to win the MLS Cup. That’s the only goal.”
All this is not to say that the Red Bulls are taking the Supporters' Shield lightly, especially not when they will be playing in front of a sold-out crowd that will want to witness history and feel the overdue ecstasy of winning a significant title.
“I think it’s something this club deserves,” said midfielder Tim Cahill. “It’s a special team, it’s really grown together in such a short space of time, and the best thing is that it’s through sheer hard work. Yeah, we’ve had some great moments throughout the season, but when you look at everything, not one player, it’s been a collective 23 players and the management staff working together to ride the wave of some difficult points throughout the season and then seeing it through. In the end, you get your rewards, and hopefully it’s going to be this weekend.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.