The New York Red Bulls have been on a tear recently. The team has won its last six games in all competitions - if you include the "win" on PKs over Philadelphia Union in US Open Cup on June 28, which you should. RBNY has outscored opponents 17-4 in that stretch. The run of form has put the Red Bulls into the semifinals of USOC and steadied a flagging league campaign - the team currently sits fourth in the Eastern Conference.
There is clearly something stirring within the Red Bulls. The present winning streak - the team's longest sustained run of positive results to date this season - has been achieved in the context of a steady flow of absences from the squad. Injuries and the recently-concluded Gold Cup conspired to restrict selection options; a new formation - nominally a 3-6-1 - was deployed by the coaching staff, seemingly more as a reaction to available players than any profound desire for tactical change.
But the response to what might easily have been seen as RBNY's lowest point of 2017 has been a string of wins. The new formation has been recast as a tactical masterstroke rather than a desperate effort to make a coherent XI out of the spare parts of the roster. Naysayers are quick to point out that the Red Bulls' recent schedule has been forgiving: Philadelphia, New England (twice), San Jose, Minnesota, and Montreal - all teams with their own problems. Red Bulls fans might point out that there has been no prior hint of consistency - against good or bad opponents - all season.
It is counter-intuitive to describe a six-game winning streak as a fluke. Equally, it is true the streak has been fueled by a healthy serving of opposition from the lower end of the MLS standings.
But it is hard to shake the impression that something has changed for RBNY. The team appears to have connected with its best self. The question now is how long that connection lasts, and how well it stands up against teams from the league's top tier. The first test in that regard is the August 6 trip to Yankee Stadium to play the last team to beat the Red Bulls: NYC FC.