It would be unbearable if the Red Bulls missed the playoffs. (Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
The best thing about sports is that there’s usually another day, another game in which to bounce back after a loss.
Which brings us to our three professional soccer teams in the metropolitan area.
Now is the time to bounce back.
In fact, not only do they need a win to put them back on the right path in the autumn playoff stretch run, they need a string of a few good results to fortify their respective positions.
In their last 16 games combined, New York City FC, the Red Bulls and the Cosmos have a 0-9-7 mark. Now most of the bad news comes from the Red Bulls and Cosmos, as only City’s last two games were factored in.
But each team is trying to find the right form so it can sprint to the finish line.
In fact, each team faces its own unique predicament and challenge.
City (15-8-6, 51 points_ has been reminded what it was like not to have a healthy David Villa, recording a 1-1-1 mark in its last three matches (the Spanish international came off the bench in the second half of the 1-1 draw at the lowly Colorado Rapids Saturday).
Injuries, particularly in the midfield, have dogged this side recently as defensive midfielder Alex Ring and Venezuelan sensation Yangel Herrera have yet to return to the team. When they’re healthy, they’re a force to be reckoned with. Their absence has forced head coach Patrick Vieira to play aging Italian great Andrea Pirlo, whose defensive deficiencies have been exposed several times.
NYCFC, which sits in second place in the Eastern Conference, carries a three-point lead over the third-place Chicago Fire (14-9-6, 48) into its Saturday encounter with the Houston Dynamo at Pratt & Whitney Stadium. City has been forced to play there because the Yankees need to play a makeup game at Yankee Stadium and the baseball club needs 72 hours to ensure a soccer field can be turned into a reliable baseball field. Hey, its Yankee Stadium and baseball will always rule there.
With Vieira conceding the conference crown to Toronto FC, NYCFC needs to sew up second place and avoid a mid-week playoff game. You want your players to be as fresh as possible for the postseason. A few days off can work wonders.
If not, NYCFC’s path through the playoffs will get longer.
The Red Bulls (12-10-6, 42) haven’t won or filled the net in their last six matches. Counting Wednesday nights 2-1 defeat to Sporting Kansas City in the Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup final, the sixth-place side 0-2-4 during that span, scoring but five goals.
That’s not going to propel them into the postseason.
One positive note would be a pair of road draws at FC Dallas andthe Fire on back-to-back Saturdays, but the team needs more than one point to hold off a surging Montreal Impact (11-12-6, 39) side — its in seventh place — that ran over conference leader Toronto FC, 5-1, Wednesday.
The return of midfielder Danny Royer from a knee injury will help, but if anyone thinks the 2017 version of the Red Bulls is anywhere near the last four teams that have worn the team’s colors, then you have another thing coming.
This is a flawed team. Perhaps they will prove me wrong, but they haven’t showed many, if any, signs lately that they can turn it around.
The return of center back Aurelien Collin certainly would solidify the backline with his physical presence. But there’s something missing with this team, something that made the past few Red Bulls’ team special, something that is desperately needed in the waning weeks of the season.
If case you are wondering, the last time the Red Bulls failed to reach the postseason was in 2009. They have reached the playoffs seven consecutive seasons.
Actually, I have grown weary of writing about the Cosmos leaving home points on the table. It is one of the cardinal sins of soccer, especially for a team that has had aspirations of winning the title. If you can’t win or accrue points at home, what is the likelihood of accomplishing that feat on the road in enemy territory?
So, here we go again, the Cosmos situation:
Their 2-2 draw with the San Francisco Deltas Wednesday left them in seventh place in the fall season standings with a 1-2-6 mark and nine points. In the overall standings, the Cosmos are in fifth place with a 7-6-12 mark and 33 points. To reach the playoffs, they would need to either win the fall championship, which is highly unlikely, or finish among the top four teams in the combined standings, which still can be achieved.
Of course, they have to win at home more than in a blue moon. They are 3-3-7 at home, earning only 16 points out of possible 39, which could spell doom for their post-season hopes if they can’t turn it around during the stretch run.
They haven’t won at home — or at all for that matter — since a 3-1 victory over Miami FC July 29, their fall home opener. That is almost two months ago. And oh yeah, they are 0-2-6 since then while conceding 17 goals.
The Cosmos’ first two games on their current homestand has been a contrast in styles with similar results.
They overcame a three-goal deficit against Jacksonville to rescue a point via a 3-3 tie Sunday.
Three days later, they squandered a two-goal lead in the final 10 minutes, which is a no-no when you’re playing at home.
Head coach Giovanni Savarese, who has guided the club to three Soccer Bowl titles in the past four years, has done a wonderful job just putting together a competitive side on a short-term basis.
But the wheels are coming off the bus as he has struggled to find the right combination on defense — team, backline and in the net. He has used three goalkeepers in the past four matches — Jimmy Maurer, Kyle Zobeck and Brian Holt — as the Cosmos have conceded 10 goals.
They can’t continue to be a sieve on defense if they want to reach the postseason for the fifth consecutive year.