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Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis

September 24, 2012
Red Bulls should worry about securing playoff berth, not first place

Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls have their playoff destiny at their feet.
Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls have their playoff destiny at their feet.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
By Michael Lewis Editor

With the Red Bulls talking about catching Sporting Kansas City for the Eastern Conference crown, I have a few words of wisdom for the team as it continues its stretch run for the Major League Soccer playoffs:

Don't worry about catching KC and concern yourself on who is around and behind you.

Now, I'm not saying to give up on the title quest, but there are more important things at hand, such as securing a post-season berth and making sure the team avoids winding up in fourth or fifth place.

That would make the Red Bulls' quest of reaching MLS Cup much more difficult, being forced to play its first playoff game on a Wednesday following the season-ending match in Philadelphia the previous Saturday on Oct. 27.

If they won on Wednesday, the Red Bulls would commence their Eastern Conference semifinals series the following weekend.

Of course, the Red Bulls still can catch Sporting Kansas City, although they would have to win at home against Toronto FC on Saturday and the Chicago Fire on Oct. 6 prior to the Oct. 20 confrontation.

And they also need help from both of those teams, who play on Friday (a tie looks like the best scenario for New York).

As of Monday, this is how the conference race stacks up:

Eastern Conference GP W L T PTS GF GA

Sporting Kansas City 30 16 7 7 55 37 25

Chicago Fire 29 16 8 5 53 42 34

D.C. United 30 15 10 5 50 47 39

New York Red Bulls 30 14 8 8 50 50 43

Houston Dynamo 30 12 8 10 46 42 37

Columbus Crew 30 13 11 6 45 36 37

Montreal Impact 31 12 15 4 40 44 49

Philadelphia Union 28 8 14 6 30 29 33

New England Revolution 30 7 15 8 29 37 41

Toronto FC 30 5 18 7 22 34 55

The Red Bulls have four precious game remaining in the regular season, three at home, starting with Toronto FC this Saturday.

Yes, Toronto is at the bottom of the conference and is the worst team in the league.

But as the Red Bulls and the Houston Dynamo learned this weekend, bottom-of-the-barrel teams still are playing to win. The Revolution rallied deep in stoppage time to pull out a 1-1 tie and the Union recorded a 3-1 victory over the Houston Dynamo. Both of those games were played in the underdogs' home grounds, but they or Toronto should not be taken lightly.

New York control of its destiny, but anything but a victory would be devastating for the Red Bulls, who like it or not, have a history of struggling during the stretch run in September and October.

Time is running out.

A loss can be compensated for in June, July and August. In September and October, not so much.

As I wrote in a recent column, the phrase must-win situation is overused and has different degrees. Needless to say, this is such a medium must-win situation.

A victory would go far toward securing a playoff berth. A loss, combined with positive results for the likes of United, the Dynamo and Crew would put the pressure on the Red Bulls, pressure they can avoid with their destiny at their feet.
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