If Red Bulls fans feel like they’re on Ángel wings, ahem, angel’s wings, it's for good reason.
The team is in first place and, at 5-1-0, enjoying the club’s best start to a season in nine years. All of a sudden, there is talk of a resurgence around the franchise, playing in the league’s best stadium and with a new look team. But most encouraging for New York supporters is the fact that the club is winning games in which it shouldn't necessarily be getting results, let alone wins.
And that’s what good teams do – get results in games they shouldn’t. And make no mistakes about it: Right now, the Red Bulls are a very good team.
Last year, New York would have fallen faster than a chunk of concrete from the rafters of RFK Stadium after a first half like they went through on Saturday afternoon. Against D.C. United, the Red Bulls were outplayed, outshot and outperformed in the opening 45 minutes against United. But instead of folding, the team hung in there and came out from the locker room after halftime ready to perform and make the home team pay for their wasted chances.
“We weathered the storm,” said defender Mike Petke after the match. “In the second half, we just came out and came out for blood, to be honest with you.”
Petke is one of those “out for blood” having twice played for a New York franchise that finished in last place. The veteran defender was in his second year in the league in 1999 when the team set a then all-time record for futility with just seven wins. Last year, the Red Bulls finished with just five victories.
Now, it's a much different tune -- and the difference may be first-year coach Hans Backe. Considering that six of the starters from Saturday’s 2-0 road win over D.C. United were starters during last year’s last place finish, credit goes to the Swede for the remarkable turn of form.
While Backe is quick to credit the confidence to the team’s preseason performance in Spain and the winning mentality developed while playing top competition, the team knows to credit the new coach with the results.
“We never thought we were out of [Saturday’s] game,” midfielder Joel Lindpere told MLSsoccer.com. “On the road against a team that wants and needs a win, we wanted to keep our shape and take our chances.”
After the win at RFK Stadium, Backe compared the victory to the result in early April against Seattle, when New York got their first victory on the road in almost two years. In fact, it was the first time that New York had beaten D.C. United as the visiting club since the fall of 2005. The fact that the team has a different mindset is no surprise.
And everyone knows who is responsible for this mentality.
“Mentally, we’re very, very strong," said forward Salou Ibrahim. "It comes also from the head coach, he is very strong and very relaxed and doesn’t put too much pressure on the players. It comes forward to the players, how relaxed he is. That’s very important. It helps us when we get to the field and we stay in the games and in the end we’ve been getting the three points, which is important for us.”
Kristian Dyer is a reporter for MLSSoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.