On a bit of a hot streak over the last month, the New York Red Bulls are struggling no more.
Talk of this team being washed-up and talent-devoid has gone silent.
This season did not start off hot for this team. A premature collapse in the quarterfinals in the Champions League was followed by several dour results in league play that included just five points from their first six games.
But the team has rebounded in the past two months with head coach Chris Armas pressing nearly every right button from tactics to formation and personnel, en route to the team’s rise above the red line in the Eastern Conference.
The Red Bulls now look like a team that can compete for the top of the conference after 16 points from their last seven matches. There was plenty of handwringing early on from fans and the media, especially with the ‘Curse of the 9s’ looming large.
Both in 1999 (as the MetroStars) and in 2009, this franchise was historically bad. In both seasons, the team was far and away from the worst in the league.
Given the team’s rough start, the fear was that the curse would carry on in 2019. Not so fast, says Armas after this team’s turnaround in recent weeks.
“We always step on the field looking for results and points, and early on, they weren’t coming as much,” Armas said. “In many of those games, we feel like we were much in control, which is sometimes when you’re most vulnerable. We said all along that we were growing in those moments and it’d pay dividends, and we think it is.
“Are we turning a corner? Yes. I think we’re making progress in all ways. I think that [you] keep taking steps, thinking that we’re becoming a real team. That you can count on different guys, that we understand who we are and can execute in tough moments. I think it’s all part of our process and taking steps forward.”
There was plenty of chatter surrounding the team, some of which Armas took note of last week in some pointed comments made about the perception of this team.
All the negative results, the talk about sweeping changes and year-related curses are likely a thing of the past. Whether it was social media or in the media’s coverage of the team, there was plenty of wondering if these Red Bulls were washed up and hadn’t kept pace with the rest of the league.
It was something that Armas thinks the players were aware of but wasn’t a concern once they stepped inside the team’s training facility.
“They’re human, they read things,” Armas said. “We encourage them not to but while they’re hearing that, they’re hearing from us, the staff, that they’re a great team and the reigning Supporters Shield champions.
“They’re hearing the reality that you don’t have to look that far for a record-breaking season last year. You hear the negative things out there –- it seems easy to throw it on the Red Bulls. I’m not saying we didn’t bring it on ourselves. As much as I say that, within our walls, we come back to reality. We don’t sugar coat things but we look at things in a real way.”
RED BULLS NOTES
– Forward Bradley Wright-Phillips (groin) might not be ready to go ahead for the Red Bulls match this Saturday night against Real Salt Lake. The team’s all-time leading scorer did not train on Wednesday, but worked out in the gym.
“I think we have to be smart with him,” Armas said of BWP. “When there’s inflammation, you have to make sure it calms down, address it the right way and when he comes back [that] it’s a thing of the past. We feel good about where he’s at and when comes back, he’s going to inject who he is back in our team. We miss having him out there.”
– The United States U-20 national team is competing in their World Cup and is in a strong position to advance after a 2-0 win over Nigeria on Monday.
The staff for the squad has a strong New York feel to it. Head coach Tab Ramos was the first player signed in franchise history when the league started in 1996. Assistant coach Dave van den Bergh was a star player for the Red Bulls and helped key the team’s 2008 run to MLS Cup. Goalkeeper coach Des McAleenan was a long-time assistant coach for the Red Bulls under several head coaches.
In addition, starters Timothy Weah and Chris Gloster both came up through the Red Bulls Academy.
[Watch the Red Bulls Take on Real Salt Lake Saturday at 6:30 PM on MSG & MSG GO. Get the App Now]