September 25, 2012
ANNUAL LATE-SEASON PUSH
Red Bulls coach doesn't expect to Backe-in to the playoffs
By Kristian R. Dyer
|Hans Backe: "Two years in a row we’ve looked quite strong when we get closer to the playoffs.”
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
BigAppleSoccer.com Contributing Editor
UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – When the leaves change and the temperature begins to drop, that’s when the Red Bulls under coach Hans Backe seem to heat up. Perhaps it has something to do with his Swedish temperament.
In Backe’s first year with the club in 2010, the Red Bulls closed out the season with four wins in their last five games and 13 points from that stretch, winning the Eastern Conference with the late push. Then after a summer swoon last year, Backe’s side took 10 points from the final five games to make the playoffs, the surge carrying into the postseason where they defeated F.C. Dallas in the opening round to advance.
Now with the Eastern Conference tight – a mere 10 points separate the top six teams – the Red Bulls need some of Backe’s late-season heroics again.
“As I said earlier, several weeks ago, a month, it will be tight down the wire. Every team has to play each other, so that’s when you need to step up, when you play these games,” Backe said on Tuesday. “First of all we need to focus on the Toronto game, to get the home win, and then we play once against Chicago, Kansas - at home both games. It’s in our hands. Two years in a row we’ve looked quite strong when we get closer to the playoffs.”
The Red Bulls hosts Toronto FC at Red Bull Arena on Saturday at 7 p.m.
There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it other than that the Red Bulls seem to play better with their backs against the wall. But now with things heading towards the final stretch run, it is obvious that the Red Bulls cannot afford a letdown and need to start rekindling their fall magic of the last two years.
“Of course, last year was a much tougher year than this year overall in terms of the ups and downs; we probably had more downs than ups," midfielder Dax McCarty said. "We came through it, made the playoffs. Last year we’re talking about probably 10 games that were must win games. Every game going into the end of the year was a must-win game.
“These games, it’s getting down to crunch time. I think everyone would agree that the East is as competitive as it has ever been. The top six teams, not too much in between them. These home games are very important; it’s crunch time. We need to use the confidence we built up in Red Bull Arena.”
It has been a downturn in form recently, with the Red Bulls losing at home to Sporting Kansas City, 2-0, last Wednesday and then having a rough 1-1 draw in New England on Saturday. McCarty, for one, saw a silver lining in it all.
“The Kansas City game was a tough game for everybody but the way I look at it, maybe it was a good thing to lose and get it out of the way so when we do go into this final stretch, we don’t have to worry about an undefeated streak or anything like that,” he said.
“We got it out of the way, we took our lump. We go into the Toronto game with confidence and knowing that we need to put in a good performance for our fans and our playoff hopes.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed @KristianRDyer