The Red Bulls are officially out of the basement of Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference with a four-point week in their back pocket after picking up a draw on the road at Toronto FC on Wednesday before defeating CF Montreal 2-1 at Red Bull Arena on Saturday. Despite coming into the week tied for last place with 12 points, New York has marched into No. 11 after 14 matches, putting the club within two points of the playoff line. Since promoting Troy Lesesne to the head coaching position in the wake of Gerhard Struber’s dismissal, the Red Bulls have gone 3-1-0 in all competitions, conceding just one goal over that time frame.
This surge has come in the wake of more adversity than meets the eye, as the Red Bulls are still without many key players in Luquinhas, Lewis Morgan, Frankie Amaya, Kyle Duncan, Steven Sserwadda and Daniel Edelman, who is on international duty at the U20 World Cup with the U.S.
One player who was welcomed back on Saturday, though, was DP striker Dante Vanzeir, who completed his six-match suspension for uttering a racial epithet during New York’s match against the San Jose Earthquakes on April 8. Vanzeir came off the bench in the 67th minute for Cory Burke, who netted the game’s winning goal late in the first half. Vanzier was met mostly with support from the fans as he trotted out onto the pitch at Red Bull Arena, but boos could be heard as well. Burke spoke of Vanzeir’s return after the game, saying, “It’s good that we are so close to getting back everybody. We need everybody and with Dante playing with me up top, he’s a player who likes to run and we need that.”
Even with many important fixtures out of the lineup, the Red Bulls have been playing some of their best soccer of the season during this stretch while still emphasizing similar tactical ideas to what New York is known for. However, the team has been able to add a more creative and dynamic punch to its game, especially in the final third, culminating in the team’s first two-goal first half of the season as Andres Reyes and Burke both scored within the first 45 minutes.
Although Joel Waterman was able to briefly level things for Montreal on a superb set-piece routine, the Red Bulls ultimately saw the match out comfortably in the second half, continuing their trend of limiting opponents’ opportunities, especially when leading late in matches. According to Lesesne, “The way that the back line is able to close matches out, starting with Carlos [Coronel] number one, but just how we battle for first and second balls, I think, is really impressive. And then you have different players, also, coming into the game that add energy but also add some composure at times.”
As the Red Bulls hope more players will be available for selection, things do not get easier as they take on two of the league’s toughest teams in another short week, hosting Supporters’ Shield leader FC Cincinnati on Tuesday night in the Round of 16 of the U.S. Open Cup. To reach this stage, the Red Bulls eliminated their oldest rival D.C. United in the Round of 32 on May 9 at MSU Soccer Park.
Not only will New York be facing the league’s best, but it will be rehashing old memories of last year’s playoff elimination at Cincy’s behest and the classic 2017 Open Cup semifinal, which Lesesne recalled despite being an assistant for the United Soccer League’s Charlotte Independence at the time.
“I watched that game because the atmosphere in Cincinnati was incredible,” Lesesne said. “I’d say that match and the match we’re going to see Tuesday may be two different matches, but a very talented side in FC Cincinnati that’s well coached and at the top of the table right now so we just need to recover, we need to see where we are physically and get ready to go again.”
Following Tuesday’s Open Cup tilt, the Red Bulls will travel to Lumen Field on Saturday for a tough match against perennial Western Conference powerhouse Seattle Sounders in what will be another test of the club’s newfound form. It seems more players are being primed for their return to the pitch for New York, which could give the club enough fuel to fend off some of the tougher opponents it is slated to face and cope with the condensed schedule of nine matches in 28 days.