|Photo courtesy Red Bulls.
The New York Red Bulls clinched a playoff spot with a 1-0 win over the Montreal Impact on Saturday night at Red Bull Arena.
This is the seventh straight year the Red Bulls are in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
The Red Bulls improved to 13-9-9, 48 points and are now in first place in the Eastern Conference. new York City Football Club and Toronto have the same amount of points, but the Red Bulls have the edge on goal differential, +13.
In a bit of irony, the Red Bulls' win also allowed their rivals, NYCFC, to clinch a playoff berth for the first time in their franchise history.
For the Red Bulls, the fact that they have clinched a playoff spot and have a realistic chance to finish with the top spot in the East is an amazing achievement. They have come all the way back from a 1-6 start and are riding a 13-game unbeaten streak (six wins, seven ties).
Red Bulls Head Coach Jesse Marsch said of making the playoffs after the tough start, "Yeah, I think it took us 31 games to get to first place. It took us 31 games to solidify a spot in the playoffs. After seven games, it was a big hole that we dug and a difficult moment for us as a group, but we've always tried to use tough moments to make us stronger, and I think that's been a hallmark of this team is that, when things get tough, they respond. They don't back down.
"It would have been easy again -- it wasn't a 2-0 lead, it was a 1-0 lead, but the confidence we had on the field, the ability to just take care of the moment when they were throwing things at us, everything was under control and the group was focused, and they knew how to take care of the game.
"So I feel very proud of our group, but we'll say that this is only the start. So I think it's really key for us to keep pushing to get a top two seed and then set ourselves up for success come playoff time."
Marsch said of possibly facing NYCFC in the postseason, "It would be electric. It would be incredible. I played in some playoff series against the Galaxy when I was with Chivas, and the feeling of those games was incredible. You know, I want to congratulate New York City and credit their coach. I think Patrick Vieira has done a very good job with that team. So I mean, that's a big accomplishment for their club.
"I think everyone in the league would be hoping that we would see each other, and if we do, that would be big. It will be big with emotion. It will be big with tactics. It will be big with competitive will on the field, and that's an exciting possibility. So right now I think the key for us is to try and get that bye and then set ourselves up for success."
In the game against Montreal on Saturday night, the hero was Daniel Royer, who scored in the 60th minute on a header after a great set-up by Chris Duvall.
This was after a couple of minutes of sustained pressure by the Red Bulls. A shot deflected off a Montreal defender to Duvall at the right side of the box and he got it to Royer in the center, and he headed it down the center of the net to make it 1-0 Red Bulls.
Royer said of whether he knew it was a goal when he struck it, "I wasn't sure. Everything went very fast. I know I touched the ball, but I wasn't quite sure if the other [player] next to me also touched the ball, but everyone told me that if I touched the ball first, it was my goal. At the end of the day it was not important. It was important that [the ball] made its way into the goal, so I'm really happy."
Royer, in his first year with the Red Bulls, said of becoming more confident within the team, "[My confidence] gets better day-by-day. Like I said in some interviews, it's a new style, it's a new philosophy for me which I never experienced in my former clubs in that way so it took some time, and I think that's normal. I've still only been here for just a few weeks, and it's getting better day-by-day and I'm feeling more comfortable and more confident."
Royer has also done very well working with the Red Bulls high press system, and Marsch said of that, "Yeah, watching him slide around, make plays, cover ground, compete -- he's good with his feet. He's a good soccer player. He's adjusted to the way we play almost immediately, and it's been fun to watch him. I think he's made our team better. He gives us more options. Right now I think it's hard to use all our attacking options in the way -- I feel like Gonzalo Veron's been in a really good way, and not getting him into that game, I wish we could have found a way to use him. So he'll be ready for Tuesday. But I think that, yeah, Danny's been a big addition. He's been a big addition."
The key to the game was that the Red Bulls shut down the Montreal offense, mainly their star, Didier Drogba.
Drogba never got any openings, didn't get near the net much. Early in the match, in the 14th minute, he took a forearm to the back from Red Bulls defender Aurelien Collin as he waited for the ball to come down to him. Drogba hit the field and it took him a few minutes to get up, but he played the rest of the match.
Collin did a superb job on Drogba, and it is typical of the strong performances the Red Bulls have seen since they acquired him from Orlando City earlier this season.
Marsch said of Collin being a reason the Red Bulls are in the playoffs, "Listen, he came in at a very shaky time for our team, and he adjusted to how we play. He's loved being here. He's committed to this group in every sense. I mean, it was like the first day he stepped out on the practice pitch, it was like he'd been here the whole time. So he's been a savior in many ways.
So I think the fact that he's healthy all the time, that he's a competitor, that he understands the league, that he's committed to trying to figure out our tactics and do things the way we want to do it means that it makes us a better team. So for sure, he's been a big, big plus since he's been here."