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Red Bulls look to last season for inspiration in chase for spot in MLS postseason

Red Bulls midfielder Daniel Royer, left, keeps the

Red Bulls midfielder Daniel Royer, left, keeps the ball away from Atlanta United midfielder Darlington Nagbe during the second half of an MLS soccer match, Sunday, May 19, 2019, in Harrison, N.J. Credit: AP/Steve Luciano

The Red Bulls return to action Sunday after an international break that couldn’t have come at a better time.

The last time they took the field on Aug. 31, head coach and Long Island native Chris Armas heard chants from fans calling for his firing after an uninspiring 2-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids.

But with five games left in the regular season, the Red Bulls are looking back to last year’s Supporters Shield campaign as inspiration with their playoff chances very much in the balance.

“Obviously, when we think back to the end of 2018, we had a really good period down the stretch,” Red Bulls midfielder Daniel Royer said on Wednesday. “We just conceded one goal and that's what gives us belief and that's where we are focusing on to perform like that.”

The Red Bulls finished last season by earning 22 points in their final nine matches, dropping just five points along the way. They won their final five games to squeak by eventual MLS Cup champion Atlanta United in the Supporters Shield race on the final day of the season and set a new league record for points in a season with 71.

In a tight Eastern Conference playoff race this season, the Red Bulls might have to duplicate that success just to reach the postseason. The top seven teams in each conference qualifty for the postseason in MLS’ new format. The Red Bulls currently are in sixth, sitting just two points above the playoff line entering the weekend.

Royer said the difference last season was in the details.

“I think we were fully committed to every single thing that we do to all the details, totally committed to our game plans, to our philosophy, and everybody stuck together,” Royer said. “That was, I think, definitely a huge part of the team spirit to get that good end of the season in regular season, to get the points that were necessary to get the Supporters’ Shield.”

The Red Bulls restart their season Sunday on the road against the Seattle Sounders in their first game since the debacle against Colorado, and with more than two weeks without a match, midfielder Sean Davis said the team had the necessary time to regroup and refocus.

“I think it's been nice to have this little break, little time for us to recharge, work together on and off the field. We had a good day away from the field the other day, which was nice, some team building. But we've also had time to reflect on past results, what we need to improve on, how to continue to be better on defense and keep shutouts,” Davis said Wednesday. “I think last year, 2018, we were very strong in the last five games in terms of wins and goals conceded. I think if we can get back to that mentality, it will be very useful for us in this final stretch.”

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