Michael Murillo: “It’s been a bit concerning for the simple fact that we have been the best defense all season.” (Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis
FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

If the Red Bulls live by the adage that defense wins championships, then they have to get our backline and team defending in line ASAP if they want to enjoy success in the MLS playoffs.

After securing a reputation as the best defensive team in Major League Soccer this season, the Red Bulls have been quite leaky in the past two matches — surrendering three goals in each game.

That included a 3-0 loss at the Montreal Impact Sept. 1 and a wild 3-3 draw at D.C. United Sept. 16.

The Red Bulls have an opportunity to rectify that against Toronto FC at Red Bull Arena at 5 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s been a bit concerning for the simple fact that we have been the best defense all season, and to allow six goals in the last two matches, that is not something we normally do,” right back Michael Murillo said through an interpreter at the Red Bulls Training Facility earlier this week. “So what we have been doing is working hard and seeing what the mistakes are so we can correct them, move forward and improve the defense again.”

Entering Saturday’s action, New York (17-7-5, 56 points) is second in the league, allowing 33 goals. The Seattle Sounders has conceded the few goals (29).

Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas said there were different circumstances that led to the goals in both games.

“Well, its two different animals there,” he said. “In Montreal it was clearly set pieces, then you’re down 2-0 against a team that is sitting deep and organized and hard to break down. Now you are in trouble, because it sets up for counter attacks and transition moments. So, what can you say there, besides the alertness and details on how we look to defend set pieces.

“In this past game versus D.C., it was more specific some collective-individual breakdowns on a few plays and it cost us. Maybe it cost us points. So, it’s two different things. In this past game it’s hot, its humid, it’s we fight back each time. Three times you come back. Physically what it does to you, mentally what it does to you, after the game you think you shouldn’t have to feel like that. We know that we pride ourselves in alertness, in the urgency, recovery runs just some of those details. We know that we let ourselves down and let that slip that game.”

A victory against the struggling MLS Cup champions can go a long way in helping the Red Bulls in their quest for the Supporters Shield — they trail first-place Atlanta United (18-5-6, 60) by four points — and can help bury ninth-place Toronto (8-14-6, 30) in its quest for a playoff spot.

Asked if he thought he would be joyful if his team helped knock out Toronto from a playoff spot, Armas replied, “I don’t look at it that way. They are all competitors; their coaching staff were all my teammates one day in LA. I don’t look at it as taking their playoff hopes. For me it’s much different. It is a chance at home to push and be the aggressors, keep pace and get closer to Atlanta as they won a big one [Wednesday] night.

“So, for us it is very clear, this time of year it’s how good can we get at being as us and sort of some of the kinks that have come up. It’s another opportunity for us to grab three points. It’s always special one against Toronto because they are a good team. They are the champions coming into our building, so whatever team they put out there we will get a good team. They are still so incredible even watching them [in the Campeones Cup Wednesday night], so many good things about their team and what they are about.”