Goalkeeper Luis Robles has been the cornerstone of the Red Bulls’ defense for five-plus seasons. (Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Let’s start with some encouraging news about the Red Bulls, who are entering the playoffs on some momentum.
They were 2-0-1 in their last three games of the Major League Soccer regular season.
Now for some discouraging news. They own a eight-game winless streak against the five other Eastern Conference teams in the playoffs (0-4-4). They haven’t beaten a conference playoff side since a 2-1 home victory over the Chicago Fire April 29. Overall, they are 3-4-4 against Eastern Conference playoff teams.
So, which team are we going to see against the Fire in Wednesday night’s knockout-round game in Bridgeview, Ill.?
The Red Bulls have many fine pieces to the puzzle. Sometimes they come together, sometimes they don’t.
Those talented players include Bradley Wright-Phillips, Sacha Kljestan, Daniel Royer, Kemar Lawrence, Tyler Adams and Luis Robles, who seemingly has been making miracle saves in goal forever.
But in terms of consistency, that is another matter.
When the Red Bulls dispatched captain Dax McCarty to Chicago in January, I feared the team had jettisoned a vital piece to its success. Yes, there were youngsters chomping at the bit who were ready to prove themselves. But the team lost vital experience and soccer acumen in the middle of the midfield.
No doubt that Adams has shown flashes of brilliance — his star is in the rise — and that Sean Davis has improved greatly after a shaky start.
But there is something missing from this team that would make a more feared postseason side.
Perhaps I will be mistaken.
Perhaps the Red Bulls will overcome the Fire and go on roll and pull off a major surprise.
In one-shot deals in a league that promotes parity as MLS does, it certainly can happen.
I would love to see them prove me wrong, but I just don’t see it happening this year.