Harrison, NJ (October 18th, 2015) – What a long strange road it has been for Jesse Marsch and his New York Red Bulls. On a brisk Sunday afternoon, New York finished off their home schedule with a 4-1 win against the Philadelphia Union. The Red Bulls have already faced this Union team three times across all competitions in 2015. The last time these two clubs met at Red Bull Arena, Jim Curtin’s side eliminated New York from the US Open Cup on penalty kicks, after playing most of the match with 10 men. In league play, the Union laid a world of hurt on the Red Bulls over Memorial Day weekend, their only league victory in Harrison. New York gained a modicum of vengeance after beating the Union in Chester, PA.
Entering the match, the Red Bulls had won three of their last five matches, but their most recent loss, a 2-1 decision vs Toronto, raised some questions that Jesse Marsch and his troops had to answer quickly if they intended to clinch the top spot in the Eastern Conference, as well as a possible second Supporters Shield in three years. The results from league matches a day prior essentially narrowed the Shield race down to two clubs, with FC Dallas winning on the road 1-0 vs Real Salt Lake. However, if you take Marsch’s comments at face value, the Shield is not the club’s most important concern.
What could be a higher priority in the Red Bulls minds is finishing above the LA Galaxy. Many feel that Bruce Arena’s only motive down the stretch is getting the Galaxy into the final match in order to play for what would be their sixth MLS Cup. A win over Philadelphia would put the Red Bulls ahead of LA, ensuring that, if we let that playoff scenario play out, if the Red Bulls were to hypothetically face the Galaxy in the Cup final, they would be playing that match at home at Red Bull Arena.
Most certainly, however, New York set out Sunday in search of three points with a tremendous amount on the line.
New York wasted no time in answering some of the questions raised after their loss to Toronto. Mike Grella, on his first possession, provided an apt reminder of why he is largely regarded as the best bargain in the league. Grella netted his ninth goal of the season, one that would put him in the history books, seven seconds into the match. That goal replaces Tim Cahill’s 2013 tally vs Houston as the fastest in MLS history. Grella would add his 10th a few minutes later, to contribute to a four goal first half.
Grella’s journey to the New York Red Bulls is a strange one, but one that has culminated in the well traveled forward gaining some stable footing in the metropolitan area surrounding New York. In many ways, Sunday’s match was about him keeping his starting job in the run up to the playoffs, after lost some consistency over the last few matches. Coach Marsch told Last Word SC in postgame that his faith never wavered. “From day one we were like, ‘this guy’s got something.’ He really wanted to establish himself because he knew this is his home and he probably felt that this is his last chance. He’s taken this chance and run with it. We’ve shown belief in him but we’ve also been hard on him on certain days, too, and we challenge him to do more and be more. Mike has shown up every day, doesn’t take a day off, and works as hard as anybody we have,” Marsch said.
Grella spoke about his season in the locker room after the match, with a look ahead to possibly acheiving something special with his teammates. “I think I’ve had a good season, but in my eyes, and in my head, all my thoughts are looking forward. In truth, I’m just really looking forward to accomplishing something with this team. It’s been such a fantastic group, we have this opportunity and we have to take it now because in football it’s crazy. Things change so quickly so now we’re just looking forward to the next games and hopefully winning the Supporters’ Shield and the [MLS] Cup,” Grella mused.
In football, success can come from the strangest of places and belief can be the biggest motivator. Jesse Marsch’s philosophy can be simply seen in the roster he and Sporting Director Ali Curtis have put together. That energy has rubbed off on New York native Grella and paid dividends. Talking about the influence Marsch’s commitment and energy has had on his game, Grella said, “I think that’s one of the things he does best-rallying his troops, and I think you can see that. Everybody wants to play for him, everyone wants to play, there’s a lot of energy in the group. You guys get a taste of what he’s really like.”
Marsch seems to just be passing down the energy from the top. When asked about it, he stated simply, “Everyone around here has continued to show belief in me and belief in the way that we operate in as a team and belief in our players. It means that we’ve all been put in a situation to succeed.”
That attitude has worked very well for Grella, who has reaped the benefits of being put in a position to succeed. Grella has earned high praise from his coach, and seems to embody the philosophy that Marsch has had all season. “Mike has shown up every day, doesn’t take a day off, and works as hard as anybody we have. His good days you just see he’s so clever and tricky, good around the goal, and the work rate he puts in. He fits the way we want to play. He can run all day. We’ve been proud of him for the year that he’s put in,” coach Marsch told Last Word SC.
But, just like Mike Grella, the club remains focused on the big picture, “It’s a nice time to reflect, yeah, but we’re hungry. We’re not satisfied, we want more. We want to honor everything that’s been done by making the strongest push we possibly can and to have the exact mentality we know we need to have in order to really give us a chance to win a championship. That’s where we’re at right now. Big week to get ready for Chicago and then, obviously, after that.”
At the end of the day, the New York Red Bulls have clinched the top spot in the Eastern Conference and have earned a berth in CONCACAF Champions League. Time will tell if this Red Bulls team is capable of more. They travel to Chicago to take on the Fire in a building that has been something of an albatross to them. With their Shield hopes still in their own hands, New York will need to find a way to overcome their winless history at Toyota Park if they are to close out their MLS regular season schedule with three points, and likely a new piece of silverware to bring home to their fans.
Featured Photo: Bill Twomey/Bill Twomey Photography