Bradon Vazquez has given plenty of teams headaches this season. (Tony Quinn-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis Editor

You don’t have to remind Red Bulls head coach Gerhard Struber you win soccer games on the field and not what any writers or pundits might say.

So, when six of seven writers on picked FC Cincinnati to best his team at Red Bull Arena in the MLS Playoffs Cup first-round encounter on Saturday at noon (MSG Networks), he reminded his audience that predictions don’t win soccer matches, players do.

“Only one expert from MLS expected us to be here,” Struber said during a Zoom media conference all on Thursday. “They show us many times they are not always on the right way and hopefully also on Saturday. But the focus and concentration is not so much what the experts mean. It’s more what we have to do and what we can prove for this game on Saturday and how is our investment and our power against a very strong team.”

For the record, the Red Bulls (15-11-8, 53 points) finished fourth in the Eastern Conference, FC Cincy (12-9-13, 49) fifth, four points behind them.

They played to a pair of 1-1 draws, home and away, this season.

Cincy qualified for its first postseason after three awful campaigns as an expansion team and has an arsenal of attacking power in the triumvirate of Brenner, who is tied for fourth among MLS goal-scorers (18), and the reigning league player of the week and of the months of September/October, Brandon Vazquez (18), also fourth, Luciano Acosta (10), who led the league with 19 assists. In case you were wondering, Vasquez had eight assists, Brenner six.

So, the Red Bulls know what they are up against.

“They’re kind of like a power trio up there,” defender John Tolkin said. “If you look around the league, there’s also other teams with tons of quality as well. So, we kind of know what they’re about already. Obviously, if we can shut down Acosta, that helps us out tremendously because he had the most assists this year. It’s going to be difficult but it’s nothing we haven’t seen already. If we play with the right intensity and play like we know how we can play, it should be set up for us.”

Ditto for Struber, who has plenty of reverence for his foes and confidence in his own team.

“We have big respect for Cincinnati and what they did this season,” he said. “They have a strong roster. They have high quality, especially in attacking areas. We know Acosta. We know Vazquez. They have a high ability to score and also a big ability to create final passes. We know what’s coming. It is a big power against us on Saturday.

“We have a big belief in ourselves. We have a big belief in our strength. We have a home game, and we will have hopefully a full stadium with the top energy, with the top atmosphere. This is very helpful for us to jump in the next round. We know we have to invest everything that we can to finalize that.”