Bradley Wright-Phillips and his teammates must step it up to secure a playoff berth. (Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
With one dream dashed, the Red Bulls will move forward toward securing a Major League Soccer playoff berth.
Only three days after losing in the Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup final, New York visits Columbus Crew SC at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio Saturday night.
Clinging to the sixth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference, the Red Bulls (12-10-6, 42 points) need a win in the worst way with the seventh-place Montreal Impact (11-12-6, 39) within striking range. Fifth-place Columbus (13-12-5, 44) has only four games remaining in the regular season, so the team has fewer points to accrue.
Since overcoming FC Cincinnati in the Open Cup semifinal Aug. 15, New York’s form has been below par. The Red Bulls are winless in six games (0-2-4) over two competitions, scoring only five goals. One positive note would be a pair of road draws at FC Dallas and the Chicago Fire on back-to-back Saturdays, but the team needs more than one point to hold off a surging Montreal side that ran over conference leader Toronto FC, 5-1, Wednesday.
Despite the recent disappoint form, the Red Bulls are optimistic that their Open Cup performance will spur them forward.
“The outcome is obviously heartbreaking, but the performance is what I think we’ll carry with us,” head coach Jesse Marsch said in a press conference after the 2-1 loss at Sporting Kansas City Wednesday night. “In the moment, there’s no consolation prize. But the confidence that this group has, they way that they played and the way that they played for each other, this will continue to make us good.”
Goalkeeper Ryan Meara, who backstopped Wednesday’s game, isn’t expected to be in the lineup vs. Columbus. Luis Robles, who has started and finished a Major League Soccer record 168 games in the net, should back in a familiar role.
“We know the teams around us have been winning,” Meara said Wednesday. “Montreal won tonight and Atlanta won tonight, so I guess feel sorry for ourselves tonight, get up and dust ourselves off tomorrow and start looking forward to Saturday and Wednesday with D.C. United at home. The games are coming thick and fast and we’ve got to be ready for it.”
Forgetting about Wednesday and focusing on the task at hand is the most important thing, with only six regular-season games remaining.
“We’ve got the rest of the season to go and we’ve got some important games coming up to get to the MLS Cup final,” striker Bradley Wright-Phillips said.