Can a change in scenery change the Red Bulls' recent mindset?
Following a demoralizing 3-0 loss at Real Salt Lake last weekend, the Red Bulls likely needed to hear the cheers of the hundreds of loyal supporters in attendance during Tuesday's open practice at Chelsea Waterside Park in Manhattan. The club has not had much to cheer about after losing three of their last five matches in league play while lacking a victory over a playoff-caliber opponent since an April 30 win over Sporting Kansas City.
The perfect storm of injuries, roster shuffling, and a non-existent killer instinct plaguing New York in recent weeks might not go away with a training drill or tactical change, but Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty believes the impending sense of doom following the club might be all in their heads.
"It’s all mental," said McCarty. "The one thing you have to bring in every single game is the right mentality, the right heart, and the will to fight for your teammates. Sometimes, we kind of assume that we’re so talented that we’ll just win games based on talent alone -- and that’s not the case. It’s a very hard league. It’s a very demanding league. If we don’t bring the right mentality to start games, we’re going to get punished."
McCarty's recent form is merely a symptom of a punished club with great expectations and troubling results to date. Red Bulls coach Hans Backe pulled an ineffective McCarty for a substitute in the club's last two losses against RSL and the Colorado Rapids, but those changes were well after the end result was no longer in doubt.
Fellow Red Bulls midfielder Dane Richards, who missed last Saturday's match at Rio Tinto Stadium while serving a one-game suspension for a red card, hopes that a boost in morale will come from the Red Bulls regaining their form in a familiar atmosphere.
"(We're) pretty down because we’ve been terrible for the last couple of games," said Richards. "We know we can do better, so it’s just a matter to go out and do better. Mentally, I think we’re OK but we just need to get back our legs from the long West Coast traveling and just try to get three points at home."
Whereas New York has collected only one win in 13 games away from Red Bull Arena, they have found better results with a home-field advantage. They boast a 5-2-4 record at home this season including wins in two of their past three home games, even if those wins came at the expense of the lowly sides of Toronto FC and the New England Revolution.
With a home-cooked rematch against the Eastern Conference cellar-dwelling Chicago Fire on tap this weekend, the time would appear ripe for the Red Bulls to get back where they fell off the track. They just need to reset their expectations and be realistic about the club's capabilities for the stretch run.
"We have 10 games left," said McCarty. "We’re still in a decent position to make the playoffs. Obviously, the Supporters’ Shield is out of reach, so the focus for us is to make the playoffs because we know we’re a good team. We know we’re a dangerous team. When you’re in the playoffs, it’s a new season and we know we can win MLS Cup."
Feeling the Hurt. As Backe prepares to face the Fire this weekend, he does so while once again training with a depleted roster.
Red Bulls 'keeper Frank Rost will miss Saturday's match after sustaining a right quadriceps tear against Real Salt Lake last weekend, with the German shot stopper's status to be further evaluated on a week-to-week basis. Rost's replacement, Bouna Coundoul, is away from the club on international duty along with Juan Agudelo, Tim Ream, and Rafael Marquez. Jan Gunnar Solli also remains questionable for Saturday's match with a right quadriceps strain.
"It feels this season that something happens almost every day," said Backe. "Before the game, Roy Miller got his knee. Game day, Teemu Tainio got sick. And now, I’ve got Frank Rost injured in the first half. We even picked up Solli’s injury against Salt Lake and he’s probably out. But hopefully, from the beginning of next week after the Chicago game, we have everybody back in training."
41. According to MLSsoccer.com's Extra Time Radio podcast from last Monday, that's how many scoring chances Joel Lindpere has created for the Red Bulls offense this season. That total is good enough for fourth-best in the league, behind Houston's Brad Davis (73 scoring chances created), L.A.'s David Beckham (49), and Seattle's Mauro Rosales (42).