Bradley Wright-Phillips: “When they do score the first goal, it’s very tough to get a sniff at goal for us.” (Brett Davis/USA Today Sports)

By Michael Lewis

Front Row Soccer Editor

Only three games into their year, the Red Bulls must avoid a nasty trend that can define their season:

Giving up the first goal.

Few teams can survive, let alone thrive on such as poor habit.

Teams that score first can dictate the pace of the game, pad their lead off counter attacks and if they still have the edge in the latter stages, park the bus in front of their goal to frustrate the opposition.

Last year the Red Bulls’ regular season was defined by their inability to hold onto two-goal leads late in matches.

This year their slow starts are killing the team.

“Obviously, if you do that often, you set yourself up for long games,” head coach Jesse Marsch said.

A quick look at the Red Bulls’ first three matches of 2017:

Red Bulls 1, Vancouver Whitecaps 1 — CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal first leg at Red Bull Arena — Feb. 22

The Whitecaps tallied first — a precious away goal — by Kekuta Manneh in the 39th minute and New York was forced to chase the game.

Vancouver Whitecaps 2, Red Bulls 0 — CCL quarterfinal second leg at B.C. Place — March 2

Despite needing a goal, the Red Bulls found themselves chasing the game yet again, this time on a goal by 16-year-old Alphonso Davies in the fifth minute.

Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1 — Major League Soccer season opener for both teams at Bobby Dowd Stadium, Atlanta, March 5

Yamil Asad found the net for the hosts in the 25th minute before the Red Bulls staged their miraculous comeback over the final 14 minutes to pull out the win.

“We want a fast start at home getting the lead would be ideal,” Marsch said.

“It’s been difficult to come back,” captain Sacha Kljestan said.

At this juncture, it might be mandatory, especially a team such as the Colorado Rapids. Colorado boasted the best defense in MLS last season, allowing only 32 goals in 34 games. If they score first, there is a good chance that the Rapids (15-6-13) will leave the stadium with at least one point if not three.

“When they do score the first goal, it’s very tough to get a sniff at goal for us,” striker Bradley Wright-Phillips said.

“They’re certainly a team they can win 1-0. We’ve seen that,” Kljestan added after training Thursday. “Colorado is like Vancouver and Atlanta. They’re a very good defensive team. They sit back well. they get their block of eight or nine guys and defend very deep. It’s hard to play behind them. They were the best defensive team in the league last year. So, we know it’s going to be a difficult game.”

The Red Bulls can make it easier on themselves by scoring first. Of course, that’s easier said than done in 2017.

“We’ll probably have a lot of possession but that doesn’t always mean a lot of chances,” Kljestan said. “So we have to be good in creating little chances that we can try to make out.”

Added Wright-Phillips: “Just stay in the game and keep a clean sheet, because with the players we’ve got, we always create chances or always going maybe get a goal. We’ve got to stay in the game and make sure we get the first goal.”