The few thousand fans who showed up at Red Bull Arena Thursday for the Eastern Conference semifinal match between the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United, without question, were extremely excited to be there. They had to be.(1)
The New York Red Bulls made certain on Saturday that they would enter the playoffs in the best possible position to succeed, managing to secure a first-round bye with a 3-0 defeat of the Philadelphia Union.
A just-completed homestand by the New York Red Bulls provided almost everything the team could have hoped for.
The plot lines over the first two months of the Red Bulls' season have included the re-emergence of Kenny Cooper as a legitimate star, the unexpected production from young goalkeeper Ryan Meara and an injury-riddled back line, and the team's success even without Thierry Henry on the field.(1)
The tournament is supposed to be the American equivalent of England's FA Cup, and has been around for nearly a century, which is hard to believe given both domestic soccer's transient history and the obscurity of the tournament itself. It is theoretically, like the FA Cup, open to all teams at all levels. The winner earns the right to participate in the CONCACAF Champions League, which is supposed to be North America's equivalent to the UEFA Champions League.
The Red Bulls defeated Montreal, 2-1 on Saturday night, for the team's fifth straight win. The Red Bulls have won five straight games three other times in franchise history: in 2000, 2001 and 2003. In all three seasons, they made the playoffs. In 2003, the Red Bulls also reached the U.S. Open Cup final, the closest they have come to a trophy in team history.
The New York Red Bulls are just two weeks removed from a stretch of three games in which they looked like the best team in Major League Soccer history, powered by the dual scoring threat of Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper.
It turns out, sadly, that they can't play defense.
Cooper, a muscular 6'3", quick to smile and overflowing with joy that he gets to play soccer after growing up in, as he put it, "a soccer family", is tied for the scoring lead in Major League Soccer this season, with seven goals. (He scored his seventh Saturday night, in a 2-2 tie against San Jose.)
Believe it or not, the New York Red Bulls have just completed what may be the most dominant three-week run of any team in the history of Major League Soccer.
This state of affairs is largely the doing of Thierry Henry, who was named M.L.S. Player of the Week for a third consecutive week on Monday. No player has ever earned that honor three straight times.