One month ago, the Red Bulls were waking up following a loss inside Red Bull Arena to the Chicago Fire on April 21. The Red Bulls had started league play 0-2 away from home, which was nothing uncommon. However, a dropped three points at home, ahead of a four-game stretch, in which three were on the road, could have signaled alarm bells.
Fast forward one month, and New York are top of the league in points-per-game. Whether it was the high altitude of Colorado or the electricity of packed stadiums in Southern California and Atlanta, nothing stopped a steadfast Red Bulls side from proving that they are among the best in the league.
In MLS, road form is often disregarded, as most teams fall short of even nearing a .500 mark. This reality can breed complacency with poor road outings; however, the truly elite MLS sides are capable of earning results on the road.
Over the last five seasons, under both Jesse Marsch and Mike Petke, the Red Bulls have taken home the Supporters’ Shield twice, both times finishing 6-7-4 on the road in MLS, with tremendous home records carrying the weight for relatively solid road marks (coincidentally, Petke’s and Marsch’s first and second seasons had identical road records in league play). Even in 2016, in which New York finished 3-7-7 on the road in MLS, the Red Bulls managed first place in the Eastern Conference, due to a 13-2-2 record at home.
Currently at 3-2 away from home in league play (4-3-1 in all competitions), the Red Bulls are on pace for a double-digit road win total, the likes of which has not been done in MLS since D.C. United in 1999. In addition, New York are also on-pace for a winning road record, something which has not been done in club history.
New York are not alone in projecting for double-digit road wins, but what sets the Red Bulls apart is their reliability at home. In both Shield-winning seasons, the Red Bulls tied for the third best road record, with their Red Bull Arena efficiency putting them over the edge for silverware. This season, New York are in a similar spot, with the third best road mark, behind its previous opponent, Atlanta United, and Los Angeles Football Club.
Against the Galaxy on April 28 and Rapids on May 12, two very different set of circumstances, the Red Bulls had eerily similar starts, with a Bradley Wright-Phillips cross finding a charging-in Daniel Royer inside seven minutes in both games.
Inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday, however, the game had a different script. Atlanta, the league-leader in points, started the game frantically, missing on 17 percent of its final third passes in the opening 15 minutes. Despite this, United FC were intoxicating up top, forcing the Red Bulls defense into a chaos not seen since Tim Parker and Aaron Long combined with Kemar Lawrence and Michael Amir Murillo to solidify the defense.
Appearing in his first MLS game for the Red Bulls since June 8, 2012, Ryan Meara made two difficult saves, the second a genuine goal-stealer, but, United FC finally got their goal, in the 26th minute. Five minutes later, Josef Martínez bounced off Parker into the open field and glided his away around Meara; composed and exultant, Martínez curled his shot into the net, setting the stage for another Atlanta homecoming.
Then, the video review; the determination that Martínez had fouled Parker on his way to retrieve and break away with the ball, negating the goal. With the home energy suddenly evaporated, New York needed a new route to find its third win on the road, and the Red Bulls found the way, beginning with a Daniel Royer chipped penalty to level the game at one ahead of halftime.
“I thought we had a really good start, and then, Atlanta got into the game a little bit more,” Marsch said during his halftime interview on FS1. … “But, the main thing is that our guys maintained concentration and confidence, and continued to go after the game.”
In the second half, New York found a good enough answer to combat Atlanta’s vicious attack, at least long enough to allow Bradley Wright-Phillips to provide two game-changing headed-goals, in the 51st and 55th minute. In what was an extraordinary development, given the downhill attack United FC were enjoying from their first goal to their disallowed second, traveling Red Bulls fans celebrated a two-goal lead, and ultimately, another three points.
Once or twice may be a coincidence, but three examples of perseverance on the road, in one month, shows that this 2018 Red Bulls team is more than a talented collection of players. For the first time in club history, a manager has been given a fourth season, and the Red Bulls are looking methodical and resolute as a result. It is only fitting that a third road win in league play could be the precursor to a third time holding the Shield.