On September 28, 2011 (it was a Wednesday), the Red Bulls were preparing for a weekend trip to Toronto to face Toronto FC.
On September 28, 2012 (it's a Friday, guys, in case you needed reminding), the Red Bulls are preparing for a weekend match-up with Toronto FC within the friendly confines of Red Bull Arena.
Three hundred sixty-five days ago, the Red Bulls were teetering on the verge of making the playoffs, heading into Toronto occupying the league's final playoff spot, coming off a string of negligible results. A characteristic draw against the New England Revolution was followed by a home draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps. Then, after a 3-1 drubbing at the hands of Real Salt Lake, the Red Bulls beat the Portland Timbers 2-0 at home for their first home win in over a month.
This year, the Red Bulls are solidly in the playoffs, but falling. Sporting Kansas City snapped the Red Bulls undefeated home streak two weeks ago and a winless decade in Foxboro would've came to an end if it wasn't for a stoppage time rebuttal on the part of the Revolution.
Yes, two different situations, but the same opponent. and the same goal (or what should be the same goal): The team needs to play the way it's capable, get three points and get this thing back on track.
The 2011 incarnation of the team was middling one. They couldn't win at home, only draw, and road draws that could've been satisfactory, ended up splatter-your-brains-on-the-wall maddening. Red Bulls-watchers quickly learned draws come in such an exciting variety of flavors.
This year, the team is a bit more confident. They come into games knowing they can win and when they don't, or when they don't play as well as they think they're capable, they acknowledge it. Some of that can be attributed to Thierry Henry, who's again having a monster season, but also the additions of MLS veterans like Kenny Cooper and Heath Pearce. Dax McCarty and Tim Cahill, despite youth and a lack of league experience, bring a ton of heart, too, not to mention skill.
But still, the team is roughly as insanity-inducing as last year's in big games. The mid-week match-up against Sporting that felled the fortress of Red Bull Arena comes to mind. Away to the Houston Dynamo, despite the team's questionable away from home, was a chance to vault the team up the standings. Instead, they came out flat and Mac Kandji ran riot on the defense.
Instead of being at the top of the East, actively fighting the San Jose Earthquakes for the Supporters Shield, the Red Bulls are in the middle of a bunched-up East, with its Shield hopes pretty much finished.
Last year, the Red Bulls came away with a point (surprised?) thanks to a spectacular Thierry Henry set piece goal late in the game.
That result was characteristic of last year's team: Another draw in a series of draws.
This year's team should come away with a win, but only after a half-hour or 45 minutes of shoddy defense and little possession. But you never know with this team.