Through all the pre-season training sessions and regular season practices, it seems the 2014 Red Bulls have mastered precisely two skills: Crossing the ball and playing well enough not to lose, but poorly enough not to win.
The former seems to be a function of the style of soccer they want to play. The latter is, well, an order of magnitude more important.
Aside from the debacle to open the season against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Red Bulls dropped points at home to the Colorado Rapids, which, questionable penalty aside, was probably deserved, as the Red Bulls didn't do enough to close the door on the Rapids. The Red Bulls followed that performance up with a draw against the Chicago Fire, where there was a lot of post-game back-patting about intensity and effort, but only a point to show for it.
Back at home against Chivas USA, the point was deserved with a stoppage time equalizer that only came after 45 minutes of constant offensive pressure. Most recently, the Red Bulls tied the Montreal Impact in a back-and-forth affair.
Those efforts are good for a 0-1-4 record, ninth place in the East and 16th overall. Awful.
They've also earned points from four of their five games, three of which were on the road and two of which were played shorthanded. So...not bad.
Again, not great, but not terrible.
All that begs the question, is it better to win or better not to lose?
The obvious answer would be to win. But since neither the MLS Cup nor the Supporters' Shield are awarded in March or April, the Red Bulls, chugging along as they are, might make good use of those points later in the year.
Remember, last year the Red Bulls slow start, coupled with a small dip in form, nearly lost out on the Supporters' Shield. Hot on their heels? Sporting Kansas City and the Portland Timbers, the latter of which had 15 (!) draws (and with the way people were talking about them, you'd assume they were the league's best).
The clinching games? A last grasp draw against the New England Revolution, a frantic, stoppage time game winner from Dax McCarty against Real Salt Lake, four unanswered goals after going down early against the Fire.
So much of winning trophies in MLS is finding a way to stay in games, finding a way not to lose. The Red Bulls 2014 iteration has done that so far.
They've proved they can stay in games so far. Now they just have to find a way to win those games.