Sacha Kljestan: “We don’t want to take our foot off of the pedal because this is a very good performance.” (Keith Furman/FrontRowSoccer.com)
HARRISON, N.J. — With one objective out of the way, the Red Bulls now will put their energy not getting to the postseason but doing well in the playoffs.
They clinched a Major League Soccer playoff berth for the eighth consecutive season Saturday night with their emphatic 3-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps.
After struggling through an underachieving September the Red Bulls hope they have turned the corner. The Red Bulls endured a nine-game winless streak across two competitions since the
“We don’t want to take our foot off of the pedal because this is a very good performance,” team captain Sacha Kljestan said. “I think we need to just stay focused and try to build off of this rather than pat ourselves on the back for making the playoffs. There might still be some things to play for in the last two games for seeding purposes and things like that so, yeah, keep the foot on the gas pedal.”
The sixth-place Red Bulls (13-12-7, 46 points) have two games to continue their momentum. Regardless how they fare against expansion Atlanta United at Red Bull Arena next Sunday and D.C. United in the final game at RFK Stadium Oct. 22, they are on target to play a mid-week play-in game against most likely United or the Chicago Fire.
“Well at the beginning of the season we had some hiccups,” Kljestan said. “We talked that winning the East or winning the Supporters Shield was not a realistic goal this year with a lot of new young players that were going to play a lot of minutes and have a little bit of a learning curve.
“Me, Brad [Wright-Phillips], and Luis [Robles] talked about the pressure might be off as we get into the playoffs and we are a little bit of a lower seed. Obviously, I didn’t think we were going to end up being the sixth seed I thought we’d be a little bit higher than that but yes, the pressure is off in a small way that hopefully we can surprise some people and go on a run.”
Perhaps being a lower-seeded team will help New York.
It seemed when the Red Bulls were at the top of the league or Eastern Conference they would falter in the postseason and disappoint. That happened as Supporters Shield champions in 2013 and 2015 and as Eastern Conference winners last season.
Remember, the Red Bulls barely qualified for the 2008 playoffs under then head coach Juan Carlos Osorio, now Mexico national coach. They went on a run in the Western Conference bracket (that can’t happen now) and reached MLS Cup before falling to the Columbus Crew, 3-1.
“I fall by that a million times this season already,” Wright-Phillips said. “I don’t want to jinx that. That obviously happens with hard work as well. No matter where we finish it’s going to be tough, but if the gods are with us, hopefully we can be a Portland or Seattle.”
They were lower seeds in the Western Conference that pulled off some surprises and not only reached MLS Cup, but won it, in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
“It’s always obviously a goal of the New York Red Bulls to get in the playoffs, and we’ve achieved that and now we’ve got to go further than we’ve been before,” Wright-Phillips said. “We have to all be ready for this fight that’s coming.”