Forget home form, Red Bulls must secure playoff game at RBA

Red Bulls Struber Casseres Jr hug

The New York Red Bulls, currently 4th in the East – are the worst home team in the entire league. Here’s a breakdown thus far. Lowest home winning percentage of any team in the league. Currently riding a three-game home losing streak. Three wins out of twelve so far, 13 points won are the fewest in all of Major League Soccer. It’s been a very trying, frustrating season for Red Bulls fans watching their team play at home this season. A far cry from the team that has made Red Bull Arena in Harrison a fortress.

Conversely, they’ve been the definition of road warriors winning their league-leading eight game on their travels. The latest, a 2-1 win at Atlanta United was just what the doctor ordered to snap their four-game winless streak. Up next comes the visit of FC Cincinnati, who feature Golden Boot contender Brandon Vasquez and assist leader Luciano Acosta. For New York, who are six points ahead of the Columbus Crew and New England Revolution (both teams have games in hand), the margin for error between hosting a playoff game and going on the road is thin. And in the postseason, the smallest of things, significant or not, could determine your path of destiny towards MLS Cup. Which is why, despite being poor at home and excellent away, Gerhard Struber and company must secure themselves a playoff game in Harrison come October.

Red Bulls must bring the playoffs back to Red Bull Arena

The Obstacles Standing in The Way

Let’s start with the obvious one: their home form. All three home wins came by the end of June. Since then, three straight losses, the first time that’s happened since September 2020. And it’s losses against good teams and bad teams: NYCFC, Colorado and Orlando City. That’s also coupled by disappointing draws versus Columbus, Portland and Chicago. It makes the job more difficult not picking up points at home. So not being able to take care of business at their own backyard has halted them.

Second, are five tricky home games remaining. It starts this weekend against an FC Cincinnati side that score (and concede) goals for fun. Then comes Inter Miami, who already beat the Red Bulls back in May. Then they finish hosting Philadelphia, New England and Charlotte to finish. Other than the Union, all other teams are hovering around the playoff line. New York will be battle tested against some teams looking to make the postseason and win MLS Cup for the first time ever.

Last and most important obstacle, is the Red Bulls’ play. The goals against Atlanta were encouraging. Seeing runners in and around the box lead to chances created and shots on target. Now it’s upon them to build off that, against a Cincy side that’s already conceded 45 goals this year. Daniel Edelman was great and has earned more starts, more playing time. Lewis Morgan found the net again, so did John Tolkin and Carlos Coronel has saved this team time and again. It’s all about being more fluid in attack to generate clear scoring chances.

Winning at home brings a swagger to it, and would bring a reassurance to this group. It goes a long way, especially for a team that has historically been dominant on their own patch. HaveThe players know this of course, raising their arms saluting the supporters to finish a nice day at work. Winning away from home has worked wonders, but for the Red Bulls it’s imperative to bring “sexy football” and three points in Harrison soon.

The Importance of Securing a Home Playoff Game

For as long as one could remember, when your team made the playoffs, your team got the chance to host one of the two legs. This writer misses the two-legged format, because if a team has earned its way into the postseason, it should have the privilege of hosting a momentous occasion with a sold-out crowd. Even Josef Martinez feels the same way, speaking out on it last season.

But alas, the single-elimination format has been around since 2019, and New York has yet to win a game in these circumstances. Losses to Columbus and Philadelphia have sent New York packing, making this season more important in terms of securing a top-4 spot in the conference.

The progression under Gerhard Struber since his  arrival has been steady. Last year’s late season surge to make the playoffs was a thrill, and has raised expectations for 2022. New signings were brought in and flourished, while youth is still being served. Despite how things have turned of late, the team is still formidable. To finish top-4 a year after barely clinching the 7-seed in 2021 would keep the arrow pointing up for the Red Bulls.

“This is the final stretch before the playoffs, we’re pushing for those top spots, said John Tolkin. We really want a home playoff game, so I think just getting our bodies right, and you can see it tonight that we can get it done on the field”.

And, it’s understandable why New York would fare better on the road come October. But, that would mean a sloppy finish to the season in which the team limps into the playoffs. This team has maintained its place in the top-half of the East for so long, to even finish fifth would be a disappointment. It’s been a long four years since Red Bull Arena saw a playoff game, this current bunch has the tools to remedy that.
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