The New York Red Bulls, with 35 points, would secure the first wild card spot if the season ended today. Unfortunately for Angel and his scrappy crew, they need to play three more games before the postseason spots are decided.
New York has as tough a final stretch as anyone too. This Thursday will arguably be their biggest game of the season as they have to travel to Salt Lake to play on ESPN2’s nationally-televised game of the week. Then, on October 18th, they get to return home to play MLS table topper Columbus. Finally, they round out the season on the road, again on ESPN2, against the feared Chicago Fire, who trounced them 5-1 earlier this year.
While none of the other playoff hopefuls finish against such a strong schedule, I expect to see the Red Bulls qualify for one of the wild card seeds.
Sure, they looked pretty pathetic against the Toronto last weekend, but Osorio’s bunch seems to thrive on the bigger stages and the two televised games should motivate them to play their best soccer. Plus, they already beat the team they play at home, the Crew, earlier this year and as both the Crew and Chicago are already basically in the playoffs, the Red Bulls can expect them to approach the games tentatively (looking not to get injured) while they aggresively pursue their postseason dreams.
In addition, Dave van den Bergh should return from his sports hernia injury soon and provide New York with the veteran leadership in the middle that has been sorely lacking the last few weeks. While Angel may be who the fans come to see, the Bergh is the “straw that stirs the drink” for New York this year, and his return should prompt the team to surge toward the playoffs.
Jon Conway, though, will have to do his share. He’s looked poor in recent matches and will need to regain his early season form if New York wants to have any shot at the postseason.
Thus, while their final stretch looks intimidating on paper, the Red Bulls should qualify for the playoffs if they can play fundamental soccer on MLS’s biggest stages. I’m betting they get there, but just barely.