It’s not an easy task to go into Providence Park in Portland, Oregon and beat the Portland Timbers, but the New York Red Bulls did just that last Sunday afternoon in an MLS game. Goals a minute apart from Felipe (43rd minute) and Damien Perrinelle (44th min.) led the visitors to a 2-0 win.
The road win at Portland — where there is always a full house of raucous fans, which acts as a formidable twelfth man for the Timbers and also sidekick Timbers Joe, who promises a slab of timber for each home-team goal scorer — reflects the success of the Red Bulls (14-8-6, 48 pts.) so far this season. The team is in first place in the MLS Eastern Conference and the first to clinch a playoff spot. The Red Bulls also are in the race for the Supporters’ Shield, the trophy for the team with the best regular season record. The team shares the best record in the league with Western Conference leader Vancouver Whitecaps (15-11-3, 48 pts.).
Felipe scored from a 30-yard shot when Timbers defenders failed to shut him down; a minute or so after, Perrinelle climbed above all defenders to head in a Sacha Kljestan cross from the left wing. Kljestan recorded his team-leading 11th assist, and the game marked the 100th straight MLS regular season start for Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles.
The Red Bulls’ success to date cold be traced to the early season pressure created when the new management made a host of changes. The new boys on the block, including coach Jesse Marsch and U.S. national team midfielder Kljestan, felt that they had to prove themselves to justify the changes. With changes come doubts and a skeptical wait-and-see attitude, and as Kljestan says, “I still feel like people undervalue us.”
Kljestan continued in an interview with the media on the team’s success, “At the beginning of the season no one picked us to make the playoffs, maybe we were supposed to finish fifth or sixth in the East. We’ve done a great job of proving people wrong, but also proving to ourselves that we do have a good team, we have a great identity as a club and we’re continuing to get better even as the season pushes on late. For us, the motivation is still there.”
Marsh chimed in: “There are a lot of little things that we can still show what we’re about and earn everybody’s respect,” Marsch said after training on Tuesday. “Ultimately, that comes down to finding ways to win championships. It’s about getting this club over the hump. We have an opportunity in front of us and we all know that. We earned the right to be in a good spot here at the end of the year, but that doesn’t mean anything.”
Meanwhile Red Bulls defenders Matt Miazga and Kemar Lawrence, have been named to the MLS “24 Under 24” list, which ranks the best players in the league under 24 years old. Miazga is fifth on the list, while Lawrence is 15th. New Jersey native Miazga, a central defender, recently played for the U.S. under-20 team and is a member of the national under-23 squad that will compete in the CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying Tournament in October. Jamaican international Lawrence, a left back, was one of the best defenders in last summer’s Gold Cup.
The Red Bulls host Brazilian Kaka and Orlando City SC on Friday night at 7 pm at Red Bull Arena n Harrison, New Jersey.
In MLS games last weekend, Sporting Kansas City knocked off FC Dallas, 3-1, and Toronto FC beat Colorado Rapids by the same score; Columbus Crew topped DC United, 2-1; New York City FC got past San Jose Earthquakes, 3-2; Real Salt Lake set back Los Angeles Galaxy, 3-0; Seattle Sounders surprised Vancouver Whitecaps, 3-0; Orlando SC over Chicago Fire, 1-0; and Montreal Impact defeated New England Revolution, 3-0; finally, Philadelphia Union beat Houston Dynamo, 2-0.