The New York Red Bulls have never won an MLS Cup. Yet they have topped the East four times in the past six years. This is what happens when history gets in the way.
Football is a game played with two feet. Sometimes a head. A thigh. A shoulder might make an appearance every now and then. A shin, if someone misses their aim. A bum when that goalmouth scramble bounces in the wrong direction.
But for all of the physical and technical qualities needed to win a match of football, it is often the thing between the two ears that actually determines the victorious team.
The brain. The mentality. A winning attitude that is subconsciously instilled and entrenched into individuals and teams. This is what often tends to yield the victor in sport. Conversely, the lack of these intangible, mysterious, almost quasi-qualities is what often leads to great teams losing just when they should be about to enjoy their crowning achievement.
More from MLS Multiplex
- Javier Milei Elected in Argentina: Potential Impacts on MLS and Signings of Argentine Players
- Orlando City and New York City FC in the Battle for Matías Arezo; Grêmio Enters Negotiations! Who Will Come Out on Top?
- USA, Honduras, Panama, and Canada Close in on a Spot in the 2024 Copa America
- De Gea Turns Down Al-Nassr’s Lucrative Offer: Speculation Points to Possible Reunion with Messi at Inter Miami
- Messi’s Magnetic Impact in the United States
The New York Red Bulls totalled 71 points in the MLS regular season. No club has ever earned more. It really is a remarkable feat. But when it came to the playoffs, when it came to knockout football, where every moment is magnified, every mistake is intensified, every bit of brilliance amplified, they could not step up to the stage.
A 3-1 aggregate loss to Atlanta United in the Eastern Conference Championships was the fourth time in the past six years that the Red Bulls have lost a playoff tie as the number one seed. In three of those four occasions, they have entered the playoffs as the best team in MLS, the Supporters’ Shield winners.
As Daniel Royer noted after the defeat, Atlanta, while a very good team worthy of respect, are no better than the Red Bulls:
"“At the end of the day it’s not a shame to lose against Atlanta, but I think it was more possible. They’re good, but I don’t think they’re really better than us and I think we just lost the series in Atlanta so that’s really disappointing.”"
Chris Armas echoed that sentiment, highlighting the tight margins in the playoffs:
"“Things are tight in the playoffs, and it’s about making plays, and we give them credit because they did, and we had to make a few more of those on each end of the field.”"
For the Red Bulls, this was a match that was within their grasp, at least until Hector Villalba drove a nail into their coffin with a low strike from the edge of the penalty area to close out the first leg. But they bottled it. Armas bottled his tactics in the first leg. The players bottled their execution throughout. This was a bottle job. And that is where history comes to play.
Football, especially playoff football, is won and lost in the mind. Confidence, resilience, perseverance, self-belief. These are the mental qualities that the Red Bulls were lacking. And that they have lacked every single year. For every time they come to fall in the playoffs, the weight of pressure builds.
History demands a response. For the New York Red Bulls, it was to lie down and submit. Next year, when history comes calling again, they must do better.