Dome Torrent has got NYCFC pointed in the right direction. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Here we are entering the final five weeks of the Major League Soccer season, a time in which teams gear up for the stretch run to either secure a playoff berth or perhaps home-field advantage in the postseason.
New York City FC’s prospects are looking up and the Red Bulls’ are looking down.
Ironically, Saturday’s results were tied to a pair of Western Conference teams that are in the basement and well out of the postseason picture, the woeful Colorado Rapids and Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
Needing a home win against the 11th-place Rapids, who had won by once in 13 previous road matches, the Red Bulls did not only play down to their opposition, they played below their foes in an embarrassing and worrisome 2-0 defeat at Red Bull Arena.
Three points, three home points, which could come back to haunt the team come October.
There is concern they can finish out of the money — the playoffs — for the first time in a decade, not since that abysmal 2009 season. Seven teams in each conference reach the postseason.
The fifth-place Red Bulls (12-12-5, 41 points) have won but once in their last five games (1-3-1). Any hopes of winning yet another conference crown went out the window awhile ago as they trail leader Philadelphia Union by 10 points with five matches remaining in New York’s season. In fact, they have greater things to worry about, such as the resurgent New England Revolution and Toronto FC on their tail, trailing them by two and three points, respectively. They also have a four-point lead on the eighth-place Montreal Impact (11-15-4, 37), which fired their coach last month.
For the first time in the 10 years at RBA, we heard the supporters’ chants of sacking the coach — “Fire Armas!” We never heard that during the regimes of Hans Backe, Mike Petke or Jesse Marsch. Of course, the postseasons of those teams disappointed their faithful, not a struggling regular season.
There are high expectations at RBA with the team winning three of the six past Supporters Shield titles.
Without Tyler Adams, without a star or superstar from Europe or South America and with Bradley Wright-Phillips struggling to find his goal-scoring magic to pull up the team and excite the fans, the Red Bulls have become an ordinary side. For a team that have problems attracting fans to the best stadium in the league, that has been exacerbated by this underachieving season (I will venture into the club’s problems in another piece).
The wheels have come off the wagon, which needs fixing over the final five regular-season match, or the Red Bulls suffer the dire consequences.
Given what the team has achieved over the past decade, if the Red Bulls don’t reach the playoffs (seventh place is MLS mediocrity, in my humble opinion), don’t be surprised if heads roll, whether it is Armas’ or sporting director Denis Hamlett’s and/or a roster shake-up.
NYCFC, on the other hand, doesn’t have to worry about booking a playoff spot as it did so by eliminating Vancouver from postseason contention with a solid 3-1 away win at B.C. Place.
City (14-5-8, 50) finds itself sitting pretty in second place in the conference, only a point behind the Philadelphia Union with seven games on the docket. NYCFC has two games in hand on Philly and a game in hand on third-place Atlanta United (15-10-3, 38). That includes a Sept. 14 confrontation against Atlanta at Yankee Stadium, which should go a long way in deciding the conference.
In Dome Torrent’s first full season with the team, City started out slowly, looking disjointed in March and April under the head coach’s new system. In May, NYCFC got its act together and hasn’t looked back. There have been many heroes wearing the blue this season, including Maxi Moralez, Heber, Alexandru Mitrita, Alex Ring and Anton Tinnerholm, among others.
And Torrent should receive manyvotes for MLS coach of the year consideration.
The ironic thing is if NYCFC finishes among the top four teams, it will get at least one home playoff match. Since the Yankees are given prio rity at the stadium and could last deep into the baseball postseason, NYCFC might have to play at least one playoff game and perhaps more at another venue. Hmmm, perhaps it will be City playing at Citi Field (not unlike one regular-season game in 2017).
Of course, that’s a problem to figure out another team.
The Red Bulls? They would love to be in NYCFC’s position.