Cause for Optimism: The Schedule Softens

USA TODAY Sports

If there's one thing that should put Red Bulls fans at ease, it's that the schedule softens a bit for the next month.

The Red Bulls got off to a bit of a rough start. No wins, two losses and two draws over the course of four games certainly wasn't the start the filled-to-the-brim with talent Red Bulls wanted.

The team did pull through for their first win of the 2013 season Saturday against the Philadelphia Union -- a sign everything is moving in the right direction, to be sure. And there's an even bigger cause for optimism on the horizon: The schedule softens a bit in the month of April.

First, a refresher course: The slow start wasn't only slow, but relatively difficult. A retooled roster, a rookie head coach and a brand new front office muddles things, and it certainly didn't help that the team kicked off the season against the new look Portland Timbers at home, where the team plays well. That was followed by a road game against defending Supporters' Shield champion San Jose Earthquakes, during a road trip that was split in two. The season opener against D.C. United was great, but the team neglected to put the ball in the net. After the draw, the Red Bulls dropped a road game against the then-undefeated Montreal Impact, where the Red Bulls lacked many of their best players.

Saturday's game win over the Union could be construed as the first "easy" game of the season, but even then, the Union didn't look bad over their first two games of the year.

But now, with the tough start behind them, if the Red Bulls are going to climb up the table, April is the month to do it.

The Red Bulls are just one point behind the Union for the fifth spot in the East, but a win and some other, favorable results vaults them up the table. Plus, their next five opponents, the Chicago Fire, D.C., Sporting Kansas City, the New England Revolution and Toronto FC, have a total of 21 points in 21 games, essentially keeping pace with the 5-points-in-5-games Red Bulls.

The next fixture is probably the easiest. Toyota Park hasn't been kind to the MetroBulls since it's opened, but the Fire are having an absolutely dismal season. In addition to scraping together a lone point in four games, the team has scored only one goal.

Then, April 13, the Red Bulls will head down to D.C. While that's never an easy game for the Red Bulls, D.C. has also underperformed the first month of the season, tallying four points in four games, a near mirror image of the Red Bulls.

Four days later, the Red Bulls play their first mid-week game against Sporting Kansas City. That squad faltered out of the gate, underachieving and seemingly reeling from the flight of Roger Espinoza and Kei Kamara to the English Premier League. They put it together last week, handing the Impact their first loss of the season, but it remains to be seen if they can put it together.

Three days later, it's the New England Revolution, a team that's quietly put some pieces together, but still isn't great.

The month ends with in Toronto against the Reds, a team that's still solidly in rebuilding mode.

It's MLS, so none of these games are going to be easy, especially with a bit of mid-month scheduling congestion. What they will be is easier than heading into the season in what's essentially an extended pre-season featuring several cross-country trips to make and settling in to do.

But April should shake off a lot of the extenuating circumstances (or excuses, take your pick) that marred the first month of the season. If the Red Bulls put it all together -- finishing and all -- they should be able to pick up some of the points dropped in March.

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