After a 1-0 win on Saturday in San Jose, the Red Bulls are on the doorstep of the Eastern Conference Finals.
In Major League Soccer's playoffs, the team with the most goals after two games wins the series, so the Red Bulls need only a tie Thursday night at Red Bull Arena to advance. The team’s turnaround this season has been remarkable, considering RBNY finished last in the conference in 2009. Here’s what the Red Bulls need to do to keep their run alive:
Protect this house
After years as a guest in Giants Stadium, the Red Bulls settled quickly into their slick new digs in Harrison, N.J. They allowed nine goals in Red Bull Arena during the regular season, the second lowest total in the league. Their 10 home wins matched their franchise high. Led in the back by the unflappable rookie Tim Ream, the Red Bulls should open the game in a defensive state of mind.
The Earthquakes’ Chris Wondolowski was one of the hottest strikers in MLS — he has scored his team’s last 10 goals and 18 total this year — until the Red Bulls stopped him in his tracks Saturday. The Red Bulls did a fine job tracking him around the box and denying him service of the ball. With the Quakes desperate for goals, the Red Bulls need to be even more vigilant tonight.
Relax, there’s Rafa
The Earthquakes can’t score if they don’t have the ball, and the Red Bulls should rely on midfielder Rafa Marquez’s steady touch, tranquil demeanor and prescient passing to prolong their own possession. He’s a valuable safety valve for the team. Just pass
it to Rafa, and exhale.
Andrew Keh, Andrew.Keh[at]gmail.com, is amNY’s soccer columnist.