Oh what a painful existence it is to be a New York Red Bulls fan. Trophyless for 15+ years, the perennial butt of rivals' jokes, a legacy of failure and frustration that is unmatched in Major League Soccer. For fans carrying such a burden, is it too much to ask of their club to take a US Open Cup quarterfinal match against Chicago Fire seriously? After all, with just two wins the Red Bulls could have been in their first major final since 2008 and would have had an excellent chance to bring home some meaningful hardware, while punching their ticket for the CONCACAF Champions League.
Apparently it is. Playing without a single first team member (with the arguable exception of Hans Backe's illegitimate son Mehdi Ballouchy) and coached by a former defender one year out of uniform and an injured midfielder currently on the roster (Mike Petke and Carl Robinson), the Red Bulls suffered an ignominious 4-0 defeat on Tuesday afternoon in Bridgeview, Illinois. Given the disparity in team quality, leadership and experience, you could argue that this loss fait accompli before a ball was even kicked. Goals by Orr Barrouch (2), former Red Bull Dominic Oduro and Yamith Cuesta helped the Fire stomp all over New York in a game that wasn't close in any way, shape or form. In fact, the Red Bulls were fortunate to be down just 1-0 at halftime, thanks to some heroics between the sticks by Bouna Condoul. They were badly outshot on the night, and to say that Chicago had the lion's share of possession would be putting it mildly.The result itself is hardly a surprise. When your manager can't bring himself to travel with the team or even name a full bench (only Alex Horwath, Teddy Schneider and Sacir Hot were available as subs), you get what you deserve - nothing. Managing a squad fatigued by international play and facing a hectic league schedule and a host of upcoming games (not to mention the thoroughly meaningless Emirates Cup in London), Hans Backe chose to throw in the towel on this tournament, the oldest in our nation's soccer history. He might have been better off forfeiting and saving on travel, because it's hard to see what players like Tyler Lassiter and Matt Kassel could have learned from Tuesday's ass-kicking.
If the Red Bulls end up going on an epic run in the league and win MLS Cup or even challenge for the Supporters' Shield, the loss to Chicago will be mostly forgotten. But that seems unlikely at the moment. What began as the most promising season in club history has devolved into an exercise in diminished expectations. Maybe The Red Bulls can stay ahead of Philadelphia and win the Eastern Conference. Maybe they'll make it to the playoffs. Maybe they'll start winning rather than drawing or losing drawing games. But does any of that seem likely? No, not at the moment.
Where do the Red Bulls go from here? Back on the road for two difficult games in Los Angeles and Colorado, before returning home to face FC Dallas on July 23. Fans demoralized by the club's continued failures will be expecting improved results in league play, since that's clearly where Backe and company's priorities lie (well, that and the Emirates Cup). If they fail to show any improvement there, the decision to toss away the US Open Cup in such cavalier fashion will look very foolish indeed.