12:59 pm Sep. 19, 2012
The New York Red Bulls are enjoying their finest regular season in franchise history so far: with six matches left, they find themselves just two points out of the Eastern Conference lead.
They continue to benefit from unexpectedly strong performances from little-known domestic players, and, as was the case in Saturday's 3-1 victory over the Columbus Crew, they're getting outstanding value from all three of their designated players. Thierry Henry won M.L.S. Player of the Week honors with his two-goal, one-assist outing, highlighted by this ridiculous goal. Tim Cahill continued to provide a regular threat up top. And the much-maligned Rafa Marquez played 60 minutes in his return, while finding Henry on a pinpoint, 60-yard pass to set up the Red Bulls' first goal of the match.
More astonishing still: no one was injured, so the Red Bulls have the luxury of repeating their starting XI from Saturday in Wednesday's critical match against Sporting Kansas City at Red Bull Arena.
Sporting Kansas City currently leads the Eastern Conference, with 51 points in 28 games. Chicago is just behind them, at 50. New York is third, at 49. So a win by the Red Bulls would put them into the Eastern lead. The Red Bulls also have the easiest remaining schedule of the three teams, and one more shot at both Chicago and Kansas City after this game, both at Red Bull Arena, where the Red Bulls are undefeated in 2012.
Beating Sporting Kansas City, the league's best road team, will be no easy task. Kansas City is coming off of a 1-1 draw against Houston, a game Kansas City largely dominated. Their previous match against New York, a 1-1 draw last month in Kansas City, was one of the most even contests of New York's season.
But the Red Bulls have to be considered favorites, given the home advantage and recent play. It all feels alien for a franchise that has struggled to add a single trophy to a collection of team names, homes, and fresh starts. But the Red Bulls, as postseason approaches, control their own destiny, while their key players are both healthy and in form.
It's something different.