New York Red Bulls will fight to break an 11-year winless run away at Real Salt Lake on Saturday in the second week of the MLS season.
Last time the New York Red Bulls beat Real Salt Lake away from home, their head coach, Chris Armas, had hair. Their new homegrown left back, John Tolkin, was six. Only one of the players from the Red Bulls’ roster then is still playing in a first division, 30-year-old Jozy Altidore.
Yes, it’s been that long. But as long as it been, the team’s sporting director, Denis Hamlett, still didn’t have hair then.
It’s been 11 years and four months to be exact. Like a dentist’s appointment, the painful time of playing at Utah’s high altitude is right around the corner again. The encounter is scheduled for Saturday at 2 p.m.
New York’s players know what’s ahead of them.
“We have a full understanding of how difficult this will be,” captain Sean Davis said in an interview after practice on Wednesday via the team’s website.
Despite how tough it will be, the Red Bulls are hopeful that they’ll finally leave Real Salt Lake with a win.
“But we’re also confident,” Davis continued. “Again, we have some momentum.”
The Red Bulls defeated F.C Cincinnati, 3-2, on Sunday home at the Red Bull Arena after a promising preseason. Meanwhile, RSL drew their season-opener, 0-0, with Orlando City SC away from home.
Saturday would be a magical time for RBNY to end this streak. One, their supporters and the MLS analysts have a low expectation for them this season. Snapping an 11-year non-winning run at Real Salt Lake would be a way for the players to show that they mean business.
Two, Saturday is RSL’s home opener. It’s a sweet time for RBNY to exact revenge, being that it’s a much-anticipated outing, their opponents will be eager to win for their fans.
Last time New York got the best out of RSL at their turf was on Nov. 15, 2008, via a 1-0 win. It was in the Western Conference Final—the MLS placed RBNY in the Western Conference playoffs that season (MLS has come a long way).
New York clinched their only MLS final with that win. They eventually lost the final to Columbus Crew.
During those 11 years, The Metros faced the Claret and Cobalt seven times. Armas’ men lost six of those encounters, drew one, while getting outscored, 12-2.
New York was Real Salt Lake’s host in their home opener once during the drought in 2012. They lost that encounter, 2-0.
Being in a home opener surely makes RBNY’s task of beating the Utah-based team harder. Armas and his coaching staff will look to get their players mentally equipped for it.
“Our job as a [coaching] staff will be to prepare them for what an opening day is like at another team’s stadium,” the 47-year-old coach said after practice on Wednesday.
“You throw out the Xs and Os–some portion of it. On the day, it becomes so much more about: ‘Are you up for it? Can you deal with the crowd– when the other team seems to have a little more in the tank?
“That’s a reality, so we’ll try to talk about that without creating anxiety here. And say ‘Guys, every time you’re on a field, you’re at home. I’m at home on a soccer field.'”
For a team like the Red Bulls, it can be an advantage when they travel to other teams’ stadiums. Because the home team is often comfortable enough to keep possession, which is perfect for RBNY’s pressing system.
They’re a club that’s better when the other team dominates possession. New York scores a variety of their goals by stealing the ball from their opponents in the opposite half.
Not many coaches will say they like playing on the road, but Armas did because of the system his team plays
“We like the thought of going on the road,” the American coach said. “It might force teams to try to play a little more, come out a little more and attack us. We feel we’re very dangerous when we don’t have the ball.”
New York’s pressing system gives them an advantage on the road, but when they travel to Real Salt Lake, this same system makes them very vulnerable because of the high altitude there. The players are more prone to fatigue.
For instance, in RBNY’s second to last away-match against RSL on May 23, 2016, they lost a 1-0 lead by conceding two second-half goals, one in the 65th minute and the other in the 87th minute.
Armas emphasized on the fact that his players need to control the amount of time they will press in the game, but he also noted that they’re fit enough to play at a high altitude.
“Our players are very fit. That’s one of the benefits for a young team. We’re one of the youngest teams in the league and they can run. We have guys that are fit as reserves and that can meet the demand of our style of play even at altitude. We’re excited for that challenge.”
Perhaps, with the fitness Armas is boasting of and the players’ confidence in the locker room, New York will finally end their winless run at the Claret and Cobalt’s pitch. If not, the drought will extend to a dozen years.