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Annoying but true: the Red Bulls have had a tough schedule

How the easiest points on the calendar are almost all still up for grabs

MLS: Chicago Fire at New York Red Bulls
The Red Bulls beat Chicago Fire 2-0 in May, and still have two matches left against them and several other floundering teams
Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

You’re not alone if you feel like the Eastern Conference table doesn’t look right.

After a massive win in Orlando, spirits are high for the New York Red Bulls. Individual performances are trending upwards, the team is successfully introducing new players, and lockdown home form has now been complemented by their first points on the road. Yet the Red Bulls are still stuck smack dab in the middle of the standings — what gives?

Complaining about schedules is kind of like complaining about the refs — at a certain point you gotta work with what you’re given. But for the moment, it partially explains why the Red Bulls record feels so out of sync with the upbeat mood around the club. Our schedule has sucked.

Readers will already be aware how frustrating two away trips to conference leaders New England have been, but when laid out in context it truly is jarring how heavily New York’s schedule has skewed toward away matches against teams near the top of the league. If team form holds, it should even out as the Red Bulls begin to play weaker teams and stop visiting hard teams on the road.

With around a dozen matches played, the Eastern Conference table is taking shape. I hope and expect the Red Bulls to ultimately finish higher than 7th — but for the moment while we’re stuck here, sitting exactly mid-table offers a convenient way to view the rest of the calendar in two parts: above us and below.

The Red Bulls have five losses so far in 2021. Two of them came against (upper-table) Western Conference opponents in the first two weeks of the season, as the whole league was adjusting to a preseason interrupted by COVID. The other three losses have come against the very top of the Eastern Conference, and all away from home. And so far, New England, Orlando, and Philadelphia do not look like paper tigers. While the Red Bulls will regret their unforced errors in these matches, all three of these teams were quality opponents you’d expect to control their home matches. And with the Red Bulls picking up their first away points of the season in recent weeks, the potential trajectory of the team’s road form seems to only point upwards.

Most of the remaining points available are against bottom half sides. Of the remaining games against the top-half, most are at home including the remaining matches against New England and Philly. When it comes to the bottom of the conference, the Red Bulls have a pair of matches remaining against each of Chicago, Miami, and Cincinnati.

To be clear: this is not a strength of schedule rating, an Elo rating, or randomized projection. You can find these sorts of measurements elsewhere. As of July 5th, most of these figures generally support the idea that the Red Bulls have had a tough schedule.

But even further, they don’t fully capture the picture of a Red Bulls team slowly getting up to speed with a new system and signings, and underrate the possibility of New York locking it down at home and improving their bad fortune on the road. It’s early yet, but with Gerhard Struber’s team showing progress and stating a desire to return to 2018’s record-setting standard, the stage is set for a lot of points up for grabs at RBA.