Sean Nealis: “It is kind of put up or shut up time for us and it is a very critical point in the season.” (Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Desperately needing a win to stop the bleeding of a seven-game winless streak, the Red Bulls host defending MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew at Red Bull Arena Wednesday night.
In the midst of three games within eight days, New York needs to find a way to boost its play and get organized to secure three points or fall further behind in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The 11th-place Red Bulls (5-9-4, 19 points) is closer to last-place Toronto FC (3-10-6, 15) than they are to seventh-place CF Montreal (7-7-5, 26). So, they cannot afford to lose ground, especially against an underachieving side such as eight-place Columbus (6-7-6, 24).
The Red Bulls welcome New York City Saturday night, Chicago Fire FC Aug. 28 and D.C. United Sept. 11.
If the Red Bulls can’t accrue an appreciable number of points during their homestand, their chances of reaching the postseason could be ruined. A full 12 points would be the perfect, although eight or nine points would be acceptable. Anything less than that would be devasting.
“We our pissed off right now and we want to win,” defender Sean Nealis said during a Monday Zoom media conference call.
“It is kind of put up or shut up time for us and it is a very critical point in the season. I think we are ready for it.”
During their streak, the Red Bulls have posted a 0-4-3 mark, recording only three out of a possible 21 points.
How vital is this homestand? After Sept. 11, the Red Bulls will play only five out of their remaining home matches at RBA.
Head coach Gerard Struber, whose squad is coming off a disheartening 2-1 defeat at Montreal, is optimistic his team can halt the skid, but actions obviously speak louder than words.
“I can see in the last few weeks, my team [is] with a big resilience,” he said. “But you need every single player on the same page on a big belief in our way what we do. “In the end of the last game, I can see good times and also times what we have to improve. I think we take the one or other two more in the next few weeks and then we realize the right results.
“This can be a big changer in the table. This is a big chance for us. I think we have to bring a big motivation in this whole game.”
If not, then the Red Bulls will be chasing the rest of the season, not a good prospect to face.