When we last checked in on the New York Red Bulls, things appeared to finally be on the right track. Wins against the likes of Kansas City, DC, and Seattle had helped them keep a hold on a playoff position as the stretch run dragged on.
A week later, that playoff hold is in peril. The club? Embarrassed. The fans? Livid. The panic button? Probably broken from being mashed so much.
The collapse started on Wednesday night, as the club fell short in a must-win CONCACAF Champions League match, being held to a 0-0 draw against CD FAS. Blown chances were the order of the night, and Saer Sene earned a spot in the lengthy hall of RBNY goats by shanking a penalty kick that should have given his side the lead. The result means New York was eliminated from the competition, as they now cannot catch Montreal on points despite having one final match to play.
So it was quickly on to Los Angeles, where the team spent a few days trying to rejuvenate and put the disappointment of CCL elimination behind them. Pictures of players playing beach volleyball and taking team walks surfaced via the team's social media channels. Surely, after a grueling month, some rest and relaxation would help them prepare to take on the red hot LA Galaxy.
Instead, the team ran head-first into a buzz saw. Robbie Keane gave the home side a 1-0 lead inside the first 10 minutes with a jaw-dropping chip. NY looked good to absorb the pressure and try to hit on the counter, but Bradley Wright-Phillips was shut down by Panamanian goalkeeper Jamie Penedo.
The second half brought the sort of total collapse and hopelessness that plague the Red Bulls so often. Rookie Chris Duvall lived up to his rookie tag and misplayed a ball in the box, giving Landon Donovan a free shot he would not miss in the 50th minute. The Galaxy would combine for team goal as some "tiki taco" (their term, not ours) would give Gyasi Zardes the third goal on the night. Robbie Keane would inflict further misery with a second goal in the 82nd minute.
It was the single worst defeat of the season for Mike Petke's side, and combined with practically every other result this weekend not going their way, find themselves back in the fray in the dogfight for a Eastern Conference playoff spot.
There's an upshot, though: with four games left to play, the Red Bulls have a three game home stand ahead, all against competition vying for those same playoff spots:
- Saturday night (10/4) will see them take on the visiting Houston Dynamo, who are trying to begin their typical end of season rally but have never won a regular season match in New York. Houston are five points below the red line and would desperately need this win if they're going to claw their way into the playoffs.
- A week later they host Toronto FC. Toronto is coming off of a convincing come-from-behind victory at home over Portland, but are also still Toronto, as cursed as MLS teams come. Toronto current sits one point behind NY with a game in hand.
- On the 19th, they finish their home stand against the Columbus Crew, who sit two points above NY at the current time.
After being embarrassed out of the Open Cup, after being edged out of the Champions League, and with a repeat of the Supporters Shield now firmly out of reach, all the Red Bulls have left to play for is MLS Cup. No more walks on the beach: it's playoffs or bust time in Harrison, NJ.