Saturday, the Red Bulls got their three-games-in-a-week stretch started the right way, with a 2-0 win over D.C. United. Tomorrow, they've got Sporting Kansas City and Saturday, they've got the New England Revolution.
If they manage to come out of both games with wins, they'll be sitting pretty in both the East and the Supporters' Shield race, effectively erasing some of the early-season struggles that relegated them to the bottom of the standings. And its stands to reason that's entirely doable: Both at home, where the Red Bulls play markedly better.
But that's a big if. Sporting is at the top of most people's power rankings and Saturday's game against the Boston-area team will be an emotional one. Add to that, the fact the above paragraph sounds a bit too familiar when it comes to the Red Bulls.
Last year, the Red Bulls had two opportunities to vault up the standings against Sporting. The first came on the road, and ended in a 1-1 draw. If the Red Bulls had won that game, they would've been on top of the East. The second came at home, where Sporting handed the Red Bulls their first home loss of the season while blanking them and keeping them third in the conference. Their third meeting (for those wondering) saw the Red Bulls back into the playoffs with a draw at home, but by that point, the Kansas City side was practically uncatchable.
Now, to be fair, this year's team isn't last year's team. Last year's team would often come out flat and give up early goals before coming back to save the point or claim all three. That flatness, too, that contributed to their "big game" woes. This year's team has traded early goals for late goals, dropping points after building up a lead, and garnished it with a lack of finishing. To make matters worse, they still haven't exercised the demons of a leaky back line.
But a win tomorrow wouldn't just put the Red Bulls in a nice position -- yes, they'd be in fourth place in the league, and third place in the conference, with the ability to further shoot up the table Saturday -- but it'd go a long way to showing the fans and the league how far the team has come under Head Coach Mike Petke's leadership.
Wednesday is a big game, yes, but also a statement game and a measuring stick game. That's a lot of sports cliches, but they all fit. Last year's team didn't respond to these situations. Shortly, we'll see if this year's does.