4:18 pm Jul. 23, 2012
A just-completed homestand by the New York Red Bulls provided almost everything the team could have hoped for.
New York defeated Philadelphia on Saturday, 2-0. Combined with a 1-0 win over Chicago on Wednesday and a 2-2 draw with Seattle the previous Sunday, the Red Bulls managed to earn seven points in a grueling week.
The undefeated week at home leaves the Red Bulls as one of only two M.L.S. sides with an unblemished home record. Combined with a respectable 4-5-2 record on the road—third-best in M.L.S.—the Red Bulls find themselves atop the Eastern Conference at the All-Star break.
If the Red Bulls can continue to play at this level over the rest of the season, they stand a good chance of earning the top seed in the Eastern Conference entering the M.L.S. playoffs. That seed would mean home-field advantage right through the M.L.S. Cup itself, to be played at a neutral location regardless of records. The advantage, obviously, would be immense.
The way they got to their current position is just as encouraging. In the team's two victories, Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper scored all three of the team's goals. This was the offensive formula that allowed the Red Bulls to score 14 goals over three games earlier this year. But injuries to Henry, and a slowing in Cooper's form, had left New York with a greatly weakened attack. The two strikers breaking their drought is immense, since the offense will thrive or falter on their performance.
The Red Bulls also received a pair of shutouts from newly acquired goalkeeper Bill Gaudette. The acquisition followed an injury to Ryan Meara, and is precisely the kind of depth the Red Bulls needed to add during this transfer window, along with attacker Sebastian Le Toux to back up Henry and Cooper. Now, with players like All-Star Heath Pearce and midfielder Jan Gunnar Solli about to return, and players like Connor Lade and Brandon Barklage emerging as standouts, the Red Bulls will be, maybe for the first time ever, a deep team.
The Red Bulls won't be able to call this season a success unless and until they win something to put in their barren trophy case. But their chances of doing so haven't often looked this good, this late.