The Red Bulls will try to end their winless streak in front of a packed Orlando City SC Stadium. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
So, can the sixth game of a 34-match season be considered a big game?
After riding an 18-game regular-season unbeaten streak through the end of last season and the beginning of the 2017 campaign, and then embarking on a three-game winless skid, yes, it can be.
After being one of the most dangerous attacking teams in Major League Soccer and having scored but five goals in as many games, and two of them have been own goals, yes, it can.
That’s how the Red Bulls (2-2-1, 7 points) are approaching Sunday’s 4 p.m. at Orlando City SC (2-1-0, 6) at the club’s spanking new Orlando City Stadium.
“We don’t want to be in this position, but we’re going to be ready for Sunday,” midfielder Felipe told reporters earlier this week. “It’s a big game. Our big players and our young players are going to show up.”
They better because the Red Bulls haven’t exactly been world beaters on the road this season. They escaped Bobby Dowd Stadium with a 2-1 season-opening win over expansion Atlanta United, thanks to a late own goal. The other two away results have been nothing to write home about — a 3-1 loss at the Seattle Sounders and a 4-1 shellacking last week by the Houston Dynamo.
Not exactly the way head coach Jesse Marsch expected his team to perform.
While Sunday’s game is not exactly a must-win match, with a three-game homestand right around the corner, the Red Bulls would like to exorcize their demons of the Dynamo debacle.
“I love when there is pressure. That’s what we live for,” Felipe said. “That’s what we play for.”
As worrisome the defense has been on the road — eight goals in three games, including the four last week — the Red Bulls’ main concern must be the anemic attack. They know if they can score, especially early, they can control the game better, home or away.
Bradley Wright-Phillips leads New York players with two goals, the same amount of own goals opponents have put on a silver platter for the side. Daniel Royer has the other Red Bulls goal.
So, the team needs to start putting the ball into the net.
The Red Bulls have been creating chances, but not putting them away.
“We need to be a little bit more clinical in the final third by putting more shots on target and challenging their goalkeepers more,” captain and playmaker Sacha Kljestan said.
Marsch was optimistic the Red Bulls will be celebrating some goals much sooner than later.
“It’s close to turning the corner. It’s close to coming together,” he said. “I’m just trying to find the right way to encourage the right things and create certain relationships on the field and understanding of roles and responsibilities in a clean way. I think we’ve made little amounts of progress through the year, but not as much of progress as we would have liked to have seen.”