Harrison, N.J. – Team and family. Those were the buzzwords in the New York Red Bull locker room after Sunday night’s emotional 2-0 home victory over cross river rival New York City FC.
The victory put an exclamation point on the Red Bulls season one dominance of this fledgling competition, completing a three game sweep for Major League Soccer’s original New York club.
NYCFC blew into town for the 2015 season, grabbing headlines from the start with the team’s first signing, David Villa. Fellow DP’s Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo followed, but only took the field in recent weeks.
There was a stark difference between the sides on Sunday, with NYC hampered by an unsurprising lack of familiarity, while the Red Bulls performed like a well oiled machine.
When all had been settled Red Bull captain Dax McCarty earned laughs from the press corps when he referenced comments NYC coach Jason Kreis made on Friday.
Kreis had detected a lack of credit for his club’s performance in some post game comments from Red Bull players after the second game of the series, a 3-1 NYRB win at Yankee Stadium in late June.
“So there’s no confusion and so Jason doesn’t get upset, I want to make sure I give them full credit,” McCarty said. “I thought they were very good tonight, I really did.”
Sunday’s victory came in what was the Red Bulls third game over the last eight days. New York won two and tied one over that stretch, pushing its way to second place in the Eastern Conference behind DC United.
It was a big setback for NYCFC’s push to join the select group of expansion teams to qualify for the playoffs in its first MLS season. That group numbers just three. The Chicago Fire and the Miami Fusion from the Class of 1998, year three of MLS, and the Seattle Sounders who graduated from the USL to make the postseason in 2009, the club’s first in MLS.
By now The Red Bulls, MLS originals, are regulars in the MLS Cup chase, but can this finally be the year that NYC 1 claims the big prize? In year’s past the Red Bulls tried its hand at going the superstar route, remember that Thierry Henry preceded McCarty as team captain.
But first year Sporting Director Ali Curtis and his hand picked coach Jesse Marsch took a different approach as they built and shaped this team.
Team and family. If ever a player can be described as journeyman it would be Red Bulls winger Mike Grella. Grella’s odyssey began when he left college for English Championship club Leeds United. The Duke man went for Leeds over Toronto FC, who had selected him in the SuperDraft.
The reason for Red Bulls solid play this season? Sitting in front of his locker at Red Bull Arena the Long Islander told GotSoccer that it is, “just the team.” “The team,” Grella emphasized, “it’s a real team.”
Players in locker rooms the world over, in any sport love to invoke team, with this group of Red Bulls it has become a mantra.
Center back Damien Perrinelle echoed Grella’s remarks telling GotSoccer, “Oh, it’s so easy. It’s a team. I think we play for each other, there is no star, it is a team. If we are a DP or a famous player everybody plays for each other.
“I think we are more than a team,” Perrinelle volunteered, “we are like a family.”
Grella had already told GotSoccer much the same. “I enjoy fighting for the guy next to me,” Grella said. “I enjoy fighting for all the guys that are playing, the guys that come off the bench are fantastic. It’s just a real family put together team, family style team and everyone is fighting for each other and I think you can see that.”
Grella and Perrinelle clearly appreciate this year’s success on both a team and individual basis. After years spent wandering England’s lower divisions, plus a two game stint in Denmark, GotSoccer asked Grella if he dared imagine that this homecoming could have worked out so well. “Absolutely not,” was Grella’s swift reply.
“At the beginning of the season I was just fighting for my life, fighting for my career.” With five goals and five assists Grella is third on the team in goals with five and second with five assists.
With fellow attackers Shaun Wright-Phillips and DP Gonzalo Veron joining the club recently Grella is more than happy to have earned the trust of his coach.
“It means the world to mean, it really does,” Grella told GotSoccer of his relationship with Marsch. “The manager is just an honest guy, he’s pulled me in, we’ve had our talks and he’s kept every single word that he’s said to me and that makes me want to fight even more for this team.”
A year ago Perrinelle was a peripheral member of the Red Bull squad, something that seemed unlikely to change when the 2015 season began, new coach or not. But injuries presented the Frenchman with a chance and Perrinelle grabbed it.
Now a back line regular Perrinelle said of 2014, “To be fair last year was like a nightmare to me and this year dream is the right word. Last year I never gave up and I deserved what I have this year, but this year is not finished.”
No, there is plenty of soccer to be played if the Red Bulls are to get to the MLS Cup Championship match later in the year as Perrinelle pointed out. “We have to win a lot of games and I hope I will have a chat with you in December.”
McCarty was happy with the season sweep of New York City FC telling the press after Sunday’s win, “I don’t think there is any real argument about who the best team in New York is right now, at the moment.”
But like Perrinelle, McCarty is looking for more. “That’s not our goal,” the captain said of winning the season rivalry with NYCFC. “Our goal is to win MLS Cup.”
McCarty and his teammates are singing from the same hymnal when it comes time to analyze what gives the Red Bulls a chance to reach the top.
“I think we’ve learned throughout the season that we need all 28 guys on this roster to contribute if we’re going to be successful,” McCarty explained. “We’re not solely dependent on one or two players. I think maybe in the past we used to be, a little bit too much.”
No longer. There is no Thierry Henry around to drag this team along in his wake. No, however far this Red Bulls team goes, it will go together.
“I’d say we’re even more than a team – we’re a family, the captain said. “We stick our necks out for each other, we fight for each other, we scrap for each other. I said before we’re not going to win games if every guy doesn’t play five to 10 percent above their level and I really mean that.”
Team and family has brought the Red Bulls to this point. Can it take them all the way?