I'm sure you've noticed, but here in Red Bulls Land, pessimism is the rule, rather than the exception. The worst is going to happen to this team, it's not a question of what will go wrong, but how it'll all go wrong and when.
But this time around there's reason yo be optimistic about the New York Red Bulls playoff chances. I swear. Just give me a minute, and maybe I'll convince you...
The Red Bulls dominated Sporting Kansas City this season
The Red Bulls have got seven points off Sporting this year, drawing their first game in Kansas City in May, before beating them 2-1 in Red Bull Arena in September and 2-0 away this past weekend. Unlike in years past, it certainly seems like the Red Bulls have SKC's number, and with Sporting looking like they're suffering from a protracted World Cup hangover -- they've won just two of their last 10, and are 1-3-1 in their last five -- they don't appear nearly as threatening.
...and they've been dominant at home
The Red Bulls are 10-3-4 when playing in front of their home crowd. The only teams better in the East are the New England Revolution and D.C. United with 11 (in the West, four teams have either 11 or 12), but nobody in the East have scored more goals at home than the Red Bulls 38.
Yeah, the defense can be questionable, but the Red Bulls score in bunches when at home. It's hard to imagine them being outgunned by anybody who comes into Red Bull Arena.
Oh, and for the duration of the Eastern Conference leg of the playoffs, the Red Bull will get a crack at every opponent at home.
The Red Bulls are actually pretty hot right now
The Red Bulls are 6-3-1 in their last 10 league games.The only losses coming to the Columbus Crew, the LA Galaxy and D.C. United. The Crew loss was the only truly concerning one. They had a horrific showing against LA, but the Galaxy are one of the league's hottest teams, and the Red Bulls are dreadful away from home. That loss to D.C.? That was all the way back in August, the first game in the 10 game sample.
As long as the Red Bulls don't lay an absolute egg the way they did against the Crew, they look to be alright these playoffs.
You wouldn't like Thierry Henry when he's mad
Basically the only competition Thierry Henry has never won is the MLS Cup. With his career winding down he'll surely want to go out on top. And like many have said, no one can take over a game like Henry. If Henry wants to win, he can will the Red Bulls to a win. He's going to come out guns blazing anyway, but if he gets that eye of the tiger thing going, the Red Bulls get an order of magnitude more dangerous.
Has Petke found Tim Cahill's optimal position?
Tim Cahill has taken a lot of flack this season for not scoring, for spending too much time with Australia and for, well, just not looking like a designated player. But Sunday night, Head Coach Mike Petke put him behind Bradley Wright-Phillips and Cahill looked good. He wasn't as close to goal as maybe he would've liked, but he did get some opportunities on set pieces and he facilitated the attack better than many would expect.
With Peguy Luyindula looking ineffective, Cahill might be the solution in the middle of that attacking midfield trio Petke has trotted out over the last few games. Even if he's not scoring, his ability to threaten in the air demands defenses pay attention, which can create space for everyone around him.
The rest of the field isn't exactly scary, either...
Should the Red Bulls win tomorrow night, they'll take on D.C., who they beat once and lost to twice. But the games were relatively close, with the Red Bulls getting the better of possession in all three and generally out shooting United. After that -- should they win -- it'll be either the Crew or the Revs. The Red Bulls went 1-1-1 against the Crew, with a draw in Ohio, a 4-1 drubbing at home in July and a 3-1 loss two weeks ago. Against the Revs, the Red Bulls are 3-0 on the season, breaking their long winless streak in Foxboro, before winning the two home games by a combined score of 4-1.
Basically, all of the teams, Sporting Kansas City and beyond, are beatable.
Of course, nothing will inspire your average Red Bulls fan to confidence, but the above reasons are reason enough to believe this round of playoffs might not be the exercise in futility of seasons past.
Maybe, just maybe, the above factors conspire to help the Red Bulls put together a respectable playoff run.
But I won't blame you if you don't hold your breath. But I will be the first one to say I told you so.