Coming into the 2015 MLS season, expectations were pretty low for the New York Red Bulls. Club and international legend Thierry Henry retired. In came Ali Curtis as the new sporting director. The most successful coach in club history, Mike Petke, was fired much to the anger of the fans. A rather unproven Jesse Marsch was hired in his place. All of this begged the question: Is this a good plan?
The club answered that question with a resounding yes.
How the Red Bulls got to the playoffs: The Red Bulls finished the season with a record of 18-10-6, good enough for a first place finish in the Eastern Conference and a Supporters' Shield win.
What's the outlook? Gone is the anger and frustration, replaced with optimism and energy. The Red Bulls have won 7 out of their last 10 games, outscoring opponents by a total of 22-15. They only have a few injuries of note (Chris Duvall, Anatole Abang, Roy Miller), but it's nothing that the team can't cope with. Fresh off of their Supporters' Shield celebration, this is a team that is looking to make some noise come playoff time.
Upcoming opponent: DC United
How they got here: DC finished the season with a 15-13-6 record, landing in 4th place in the East. They beat New England 2-1 in the knockout round to book their spot in the conference semifinals.
Record this season between teams: 2-0-1, Red Bulls.
Why the Red Bulls have the edge: New York has been nothing short of brilliant against DC this season, especially at home. They were able to shut out Ben Olsen's squad twice in New York, outscoring them 5-0 through the two fixtures.
Why DC has the edge: DC is no stranger to having their backs against the wall. They've made a number of successful comebacks this season, winning 8 of their games after conceding first. No lead is safe on DC.
Why we'll win MLS Cup: Consistency has been the name of the game for the Red Bulls, as Marsch hardly changes his lineup or his tactics. The high press has yielded tangible results for the Red Bulls, allowing them to create turnovers and counter attack quickly.
Why we'll fall short: You live by the high press and you die by the high press. While the 4-game losing streak in June was a long time ago, it still serves as a reminder as to how teams can beat Jesse Marsch's system.