Red Bulls-D.C. United Preview
The first time the New York Red Bulls won the Supporters' Shield, an Eastern Conference semifinal exit followed for the No. 4 seed.
The first step toward avoiding the same fate comes Sunday in a road leg against D.C. United, and they recognize regular-season hardware means little in the postseason.
"The reality is that we have no advantage really," coach Jesse Marsch told the club's official website. "Even though we've had the best season, we're really not rewarded for it until a month from now. We start from scratch like everyone else does and we have to fight for everything that we're going to get. We just have to maintain that mentality of being hungry and not being satisfied."
Marsch, a former United player, guided the Red Bulls to their second Supporters' Shield in three years in his first season with the club by edging FC Dallas on goal differential. The season ended in fine fashion with consecutive wins, including a 2-1 victory at Chicago last Sunday, with Bradley Wright-Phillips scoring in both.
He finished the regular season five goals off the Golden Boot pace with 17, but his 44 over the past two seasons are tied with Stern John's 1998-99 mark for the most in league history. The striker thinks there's still room for improvement as a distributor.
"Last season I obviously scored a bag full of goals but I wasn't happy with my all-around play," Wright-Phillips said. "It's something I wanted to work on. But during the offseason I wanted to bring to my game, I wanted more assists. I don't know what I have this season but I still feel like it wasn't enough."
While New York seeks its first MLS Cup title and tries to become the seventh team to win it along with the Supporters' Shield, United is after its fifth, though its last came in 2004 with coach Ben Olsen anchoring the midfield.
The Red Bulls won two of three in the season series with a 7-2 scoring advantage, though the only meeting in D.C. ended in a 2-2 draw. Wright-Phillips and Lloyd Sam each scored three times, while Perry Kitchen scored both of United's.
United limped into the postseason with a franchise-worst 5-0 loss at Columbus last Sunday to drop it to fourth in the conference but recovered in the knockout round with a Wednesday's 2-1 home win over New England to earn a home-and-home matchup with New York.
The match began as an extension of the regular-season finale with the Revolution taking a lead in the 15th minute, but Chris Pontius scored just before halftime. Chris Rolfe got the winner in the 83rd after missing from the penalty spot in the 75th.
"I think any time you have a loss like we did, everybody has to evaluate themselves," Olsen told the club's official website. "More times than not, you get a response from that and usually it is a positive response. You see more anger, more of a chip after a loss like that because it hurts and you want to prove that's not who we are. I'm proud of the guys once again for dealing with some of that adversity."
That could include being without Pontius after the midfielder left the match with a hamstring injury in the 54th minute.
The clubs meet for the second leg next Sunday in New York.