What do you call a team that stands just 4-7-2 on the road, but 8-0-3 at home. An enigma? Maybe the Red Bulls are just home sick when they leave the friendly confines of Red Bull Arena.
In all honesty, the ineptitude that the Red Bulls have flashed on the road (see the 2-0 loss to Houston two weeks ago or getting torched by DC United, 4-1, earlier this season) is puzzling. The Red Bulls are -8 in goal differential on the road, tied for the worst total of any team currently in the playoff picture. To counter their porous defensive play on the road (24 goals allowed in 13 games on the road this season compared to just 10 allowed in 11 matches at home), New York is a resounding +14 in Red Bull Arena. That’s why New York has 27 points in the standings at home, and just 14 on the road, despite playing two more road games to this point in the season.
This week’s home and home with Houston is the perfect example of how the Red Bulls road woes could hold them back come the playoffs. New York went to Houston’s brand new stadium (where they haven’t lost yet) and got beat handily by the Dynamo, 2-0. Then the Dynamo travel to Harrison, New Jersey and see a completely different Red Bulls squad, one that pulls out a 2-0 win of their own in front of their home crowd. It was like night and day, heck it looked like they were playing different sports by the swing of those results.
The difference in the team is in attitude – playing more physical and with a greater team focus this week – and it is one that both Dax McCarty and Theirry Henry have been quick to mention. Markus Holgersson told reporters that there was an increased focus on being physical and playing team oriented defense from the coaching staff during training this week. The question I am caught asking is: what causes the Red Bulls to be so timid away from Red Bull Arena.
It’s not that the stars of this team are new to the spotlight. Theirry Henry, Tim Cahill, Rafa Marquez (all designated players) have played for clubs with much higher international standing. Even league veterans like Dax McCarty, Kenny Cooper, Joel Lindpere, Roy Miller, Heath Pearce, and Sabastien Le Toux have been around the block enough to be used to an opposing stadium’s atmosphere. Instead it seems there is a lack of focus. Maybe the bounces have just gone the wrong way, but 24 games into the season that seems pretty unlikely. Needless to say, it’ll be up to these veterans to refocus the team and get them ready for the postseason tests that may lie ahead.
One thing is for sure, though. Come the playoffs, the Red Bulls can’t afford to get blown out in the first leg of a playoff series and expect to get it all back when they reach the comforts of home.
Not if they dream of hoisting the MLS Cup, that is.