The imagery is vivid: Hans Backe, with silver hair mussed, slumps over a desk. Pencil shavings, scrap paper and a TI-32 are haphazardly arranged across his work space, illuminated only by a banker's lamp. His poorly-knotted tie is pulled down, his top button is unbuttoned and his sleeves are rolled up. The exasperated expression on his face and the dark circles forming under his eyes say one thing and one thing only: The Red Bulls need 45 points to make the playoffs.
It can't be verified whether it happened this way or not, but that point total - 45 - was the tally Backe came up with for MLSsoccer.com in mid-August ahead of the Bulls match-up with the Revolution, a match they would go on to all-too-characteristically tie.
The Red Bulls have seven games left and currently sport an underwhelming 33 points. For those keeping score at home, that leaves 12 points to be accumulated in what remains of this mental test of a season.
That is, assuming, that Backe's arithmetic holds up.
Saturday's draw against the bottom-of-the-table Vancouver Whitecaps certainly doesn't help things and begs the question if anyone actually told this team that they can't draw their way to the MLS Cup.
As of right now, the Red Bulls are one point out of the playoffs, made worse by the fact that archrival DC now inhabit the spot the Bulls had when the weekend started, made even worse by the fact that DC has two games in hand. On top of that, the result against Vancouver basically assures that the Red Bulls are going to need some help down the stretch.
If the Red Bulls are going to hold up their end of the bargain and the math checks out - calling it a tall order would be kind - they're going to need at least four wins against Dallas in Dallas, Real Salt Lake and Portland at home, Toronto up north, LA at home, Sporting KC in Kansas City and Philly at home.
The good news is that four of the final seven are at home, where the Red Bulls are 5-2-6. Of the last seven games, three are against teams in the CONCACAF Champions League and two of those games are on the road. The possibility of fatigue on the part of opponents might help the Bulls' awful road performance.
Dallas is 1-3-1 in their last five heading into this weekend's match. Real Salt Lake is on fire, posting a 3-2-0 in their last five with three consecutive wins before a tie with Kansas City ahead of their mid-week match up with the Metros. The rest of the games are likely too far into the future to assume current form will hold up, but Portland is a terrible road team, losing eight games away from Jen Weld Field. Toronto is having a disappointing season all around. LA will come into Red Bull arena after some significant travel. Philly has been playing terribly as of late, but has posted one of the better road point totals in the East.
The bad news? Sporting currently sits atop the East thanks to goal differential. LA is the best team in the league by a long shot. Toronto totally retooled their roster during the transfer window and has improved significantly since.
Oh, and if you haven't noticed, the Bulls seem incapable of doing anything except amassing draw after draw.
The Red Bulls have all but given up the opportunity to control their own destiny. If this squad is going to make the playoffs, and it increasingly looks like they won't, they will need to pull out a few victories against some pretty good teams. They scuttled what should've been six points against New England and Vancouver. They have their work cut out for them.
The playoffs certainly are possible. But are they likely?