Monday NY Gaffer: Life Returns to Rebounding Red Bulls

HARRISON, N.J. — The New York Red Bulls are suddenly back in the playoff hunt, their 2-0 win over the Portland Timbers on Saturday pushing them back into the 10th and final postseason berth. The Monday Gaffer looks at the result, and the implications of three points for New York:

The pressure is on

With two wins in their last three games, there’s life in New York once again. With 39 points, the Red Bulls are three points behind the Eastern Conference leading Houston Dynamo with a game in hand. But D.C. United are hot on their heels, as well, sitting one point behind their Atlantic Cup rivals.

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“This game was a must win,” head coach Hans Backe said after the Portland victory. “Every game is like a cup final for us now.”

The maturation of Keel

Entering the season, most Red Bulls fans didn’t know the name Stephen Keel. Thanks to assistant coach Mike Petke, who scouted Keel, the journeyman who last played for the USSF D-2 Timbers in 2010 is now a contributor in New York. Keel started against Portland on Saturday, and Backe praised his defender’s display and his hard work in staying fit, even with his limited play over the past two months.

“Anytime I’m called upon I hold myself to a pretty high standard,” Keel said. “No matter whom I’m called in for, no matter when, it’s important to me to give that 100 percent effort.”

The backline stays tight

With usual center back Rafa Márquez suspended by the team and Chris Albright out with a calf injury, Keel and Carlos Mendes stepped in to fill the voids along the backline. The result was a no-nonsense effort from the Red Bulls defense.

“The communication is the same; the faith for each other has always been there,” defender Tim Ream said. “There wasn’t much of a difference at all.”

Dane does it

Dane Richards put in perhaps his best performance of the season on Saturday. His first-half goal, a straight drive to the end line down the left flank and then a beeline towards goal before an acute-angle finish, was a lesson in the axiom that speed kills.

“I looked up and I saw the goal,” Richards said. "The ‘keeper was a there and it was a tough angle but I went for the back post."

Teammate Jan Gunnar Solli called Richards’ display “tremendous,” as the Jamaican continued to tear up and down the right side in the second half, nearly setting up Thierry Henry for a goal to add to his own tally.