By all reasonable measures, the New York Red Bulls won the MLS regular-season Eastern Conference title last week. But they clinched it this week with a 2-0 road win over slumping Philadelphia Union. The win confirms what was already known: RBNY will be the top seed in the East for the post-season.
The team now waits for Toronto FC and Philly to play mid-week to determine which of them will face the Red Bulls in the semifinals of the Eastern Conference playoffs. (Most likely Toronto, given Philly's desultory form.) Nope: MLS reseeds after the play-in games. It'll be the lowest surviving seed for RBNY in the semifinals, which seems most likely to be DC on current form.
It was the last game of the regular season for two teams that knew they would be playing in the post-season, so perhaps best not to read too much into the match. But there were at least three things that happened during the game of which we can be certain.
1. BWP's second Golden Boot
He's done it again. For the second time in three seasons, Bradley Wright-Phillips is the top scorer in MLS. (And for the third time in three seasons, he is the top scorer for RBNY.)
BWP's got a boot for each foot now ⚽️ ⚽️ #RBNY— Jeremiah (@redcoachjay) October 23, 2016
His 24th goal of the season kept him top of the scoring chart, despite David Villa's late tally against Columbus.
There is a consensus building among the MLS-watching media that David Villa is this season's MVP; a consensus that overlooks the fact the NYCFC striker lags behind BWP in almost every significant scoring metric (and Villa's candidacy is based on his scoring prowess for his team). It is a nonsense supported by the notion that "BWP isn't even the MVP of his own team".
Two Golden Boots in three years says different. The only player in MLS history to twice score more than 20 goals in a season says different. Seventy-five goals in all competitions for RBNY since 2013 says different. And the captain of the New York Red Bulls says different.
Dax McCarty (@DaxMcCarty11) October 23, 2016
Many MVP votes have already been cast, and the same arguments used to freeze BWP out of the 2014 race have been deployed this year. As in 2014, he has let his (golden) boots do the talking, conducted himself with characteristic modesty, focused on helping his team, and left a mark on the record books that will not be obscured by infantile pandering to the superior name recognition of an alleged rival.
2. Alex Muyl scored a goal
The 21-year-old rookie winger has done well to become a regular starter for RBNY this season, displacing Red Bulls legend Lloyd Sam and Designated Player Gonzalo Veron along the way.
But his presence in the starting lineup is frustrating to those who would like to see a player designated an attacker contribute more substantially to the team's goal production. It is not an unreasonable expectation, and Daniel Royer's brief appearances for RBNY have demonstrated it is possible for the role to create more substantive threats on goal.
Still, at this stage of his career, Muyl is pegged as a defensive winger, a menace to opponents in possession, a turnover-creating machine - but not much of a scorer.
He won't change that this season, and the goal he scored in this game was one you'd expect any player in the squad to convert. But it will surely have boosted his confidence and appetite for getting himself into the sort of areas where a defensive mistake can provide a gift to the score sheet.
3. Omer Damari is back
In midweek, RBNY head coach Jesse Marsch once again talked up the fitness of Omer Damari. Marsch is hoping the forward will be fit and ready to make a significant contribution to the Red Bulls' playoff campaign.
First, however, the player needed to get back on the pitch. Alex Muyl's 57th minute goal perhaps gave Marsch the excuse he had perhaps been looking for: Damari came off the bench in the 62nd minute.
He's back, just in time for the biggest games of the season.