By Peter Schwartz
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“Mama said there’ll be days like this. There’ll be days like this, mama said.”
When The Shirelles released “Mama Said” in 1961, they had no idea that 56 years later a professional soccer team would have to change the lyrics of that song to “Mama said there’ll be weeks like this.” But this is the reality right now for the New York Red Bulls as they are set to wrap up a stretch of three games in eight days.
It started with a 2-1 win this past Saturday against Chicago at Red Bull Arena and then continued with Wednesday’s 2-0 loss in Kansas City. The rough patch in the schedule concludes with Saturday’s Eastern Conference showdown in Philadelphia. The challenge of playing three matches in eight days can differ when you factor in the schedule maker.
“It depends on if you’re on the road or not,” Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles told WFAN.com by phone Thursday night. “So when we look at this current challenge, three games in eight days, unfortunately two of those games are on the road, so the turnaround is pretty quick.”
In a normal scenario, a team will have the ability to look back on a match, see what went well and didn’t go well and then prepare for the next opponent. In this week’s case, the Red Bulls didn’t have much time to reflect on the loss to Sporting Kansas City.
It was a game of opportunity for some young players and reserves as coach Jesse Marsch decided to rest regulars Bradley Wright-Phillips, Sacha Kljestan, Daniel Royer and Kemar Lawrence. So the starting lineup instead featured Derrick Ettienne Jr., Fredrik Gulbrandsen, Sal Zizzo and Michael Amir Murillo.
After a scoreless first half, the Red Bulls surrendered a pair of second-half goals, but there was a silver lining to the setback.
“I thought, at times, we played very well,” said Robles, who started and played the full 90 minutes. “But the one great takeaway for me is that it presented an amazing opportunity for some players who don’t necessarily get a lot of playing time. Some of the guys played well and some of the guys, I think, are looking forward to the next opportunity because they surely aren’t satisfied with the way things went.”
And now the Red Bulls will have to turn the page on the Kansas City game quickly and focus on their matchup against the Union on Saturday night in Philadelphia. The Union have not won a match yet this season, as they are off to an 0-4-4 start. But make no mistake about it, this is a rivalry, and the Red Bulls aren’t about to take the game lightly for a number of reasons, most notably because it’s a conference match.
“It’s not just getting points,” Robles said. “It’s taking points away from them.”
And, of course, you have the rivalry factor. It might not be the same kind of rivalry they enjoy with NYCFC or D.C. United, but it’s still New York vs. Philadelphia.
“In a very healthy and competitive way, we don’t like Philly, and I’m sure they’re in the same position where they don’t really like us,” Robles said. “In all of the great nature of competition, it just adds an extra layer where even though we may be fatigued coming off the mid-week game and the travel, we’re still going up against Philly, and that’s enough reason for us to get up for the match.”
It’s a game that dots the I’s and crosses the T’s on one of the more difficult stretches on the Red Bulls’ 2017 schedule. Despite some tough results earlier in the season, the quick turnarounds of this week, and meshing plenty of new faces into the roster this season, the Red Bulls find themselves in pretty good shape.
Through 10 games, they are 5-4-1, good for 16 points and a tie with Toronto FC for second place in the East, two points back of first-place Orlando City FC. If things go well this weekend, the Red Bulls could find themselves at the top of the Eastern Conference table come Saturday night.
Not bad for a club that is still finding its way.
“We’re very optimistic, but by no means are we satisfied,” Robles said. “There are still a lot of moments when we’re thinking that it should have been better. As long as we stay committed to the process and we keep improving and improving, I think it’s going to put us in a good position at the end of the season.”
That position could be a third straight Eastern Conference regular season title, but there’s still plenty of work to do. The Major League Soccer season is a marathon and not a sprint, and the Red Bulls are treating it as such.
“We may not be there yet, but I do think that we’re getting closer,” Robles said.
And that could spell trouble for the rest of the conference.
Don’t forget to follow Pete on Twitter @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow @luisrobles1984 and @NewYorkRedBulls.