Red Bulls free to focus on MLS play, FC Dallas

When the New York Red Bulls opened the 2018 season in February, they were playing in three different competitions — the CONCACAF Champions League, U.S. Open Cup and, of course, the MLS regular season.

That forced a delicate lineup balance for Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch and resulted in fixture congestion, especially of late when they played a brutal stretch of five games in 15 days.

The Red Bulls lost in the CCL semifinals to eventual champion Chivas de Guadalajara and on Saturday fell to the Philadelphia Union 2-1 in the Open Cup round of 16.

So now, there’s a singular focus for the Red Bulls (8-4-2) beginning Saturday at Red Bull Arena against FC Dallas.

“I think it really creates clarity in our season as to what the objectives are and where we need to go from here,” Marsch said. “I think that clarity has put the players in a position right now where the focus, concentration and energy is to get better every day and find a way to really go after the Supporters Shield this year and in the end go after MLS Cup.”

Marsch gave his players three needed days off after the Open Cup defeat and he noticed the difference when they returned to training on Wednesday.

“I think they were mentally and physically fresh and really went after training today in a really good way,” Marsch said. “We accomplished a lot and we’re thinking about overall where we are in the year and preparing for a really good team to come to town like Dallas.”

FC Dallas’ journey this season is similar to the Red Bulls’ season, with a CCL ouster in the round of 16 to Panama’s Tauro and a loss to defending Open Cup champion Sporting Kansas City on Saturday.

Their focus is also squarely on the league, where FC Dallas (8-1-5) is level on points at the top of the Western Conference with Sporting Kansas City, despite the sting of a last-minute Cup defeat at Children’s Mercy Park on Saturday.

“We had a good chance at the end, so they had some chances and adapted,” FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja said. “With that one play in the 89th minute, it was a good combination of a couple bad decisions and a good goal from them.

“The group is fine. Obviously, we wanted to advance in the cup, but now we are just thinking about New York. It’s another big assignment that we have.”

While teams like Atlanta United, New York City FC, Columbus Crew SC and Sporting Kansas City have received plaudits for their play in the first half of the season, FC Dallas has flown under the radar despite being the only team with just one defeat in league play.

“I think they’re not getting enough attention for how good their team has been at the beginning of the year,” Marsch said. “They’re the only team with one loss and that was at New York City about a month and a half ago. We know that part will be a big challenge.

“We’re going to have to prepare in a big way to make sure our players know what they’re trying to achieve and what the quality of their players are.”