By Peter Schwartz
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Through the first 11 games of the season, the Red Bulls have gone through many peaks and valleys.
They started with two wins before a tough 0-3-1 stretch. They then took three matches in a row, but have since dropped two straight, including Sunday’s 3-0 setback at Philadelphia.
It’s been a rollercoaster 5-5-1 season so far, one that has been saved by incredibly good play at home. New York is 4-0-1 at Red Bull Arena and welcomes the Los Angeles Galaxy in on Sunday.
“It’s no secret that we’re a very good team at home and, at times, away from home the games can slip away from us,” midfielder Mike Grella told WFAN.com during a phone conversation Thursday night. “It’s something that we’re definitely working on because If we want to make a run at MLS Cup and really give ourselves a shot I think we need to figure out a way to play away like the way we play at home.”
The difference in play at home opposed to on the road has been eye-opening. At Red Bull Arena, the Red Bulls have a goal differential of plus-6. On the road, it’s a whopping minus-10, forcing head coach Jesse Marsch to try and come up with a solution.
“Jesse is one of the best managers that I’ve ever had,” said Grella, who returned to the pitch this past Sunday after being out since March 19 with a left knee injury. “He looks at every situation from every angle, so there’s no stone that’s left unturned. He’s looked at every aspect of it.”
While the Red Bulls search for an antidote to the kryptonite they’re facing on the road, they’ve certainly been able to leap all opponents in single bound on their home pitch. It’s a place where they’re really comfortable playing and great at protecting.
“Red Bull Arena is the best stadium in the league and we have some of the best fans in the league,” said Grella, a native of Glen Cove on Long Island. “It’s such a nice play to play. The stadium is perfect, the grass is perfect, and the atmosphere is amazing.”
The Red Bulls are hoping to turn the page on a rough portion of their schedule. They struggled through a stretch of three games in eight days that included back-to-back road losses in Kansas City and Philadelphia. The Union had not won in eight previous tries this season, so the Red Bulls are eager to get that bad taste out of their mouths.
With a pair of Eastern Conference championships and two Supporters’ Shield titles in the previous four years, a loss like the Red Bulls suffered this past Sunday was just so unexpected and perplexing.
“The standards have been really high,” Grella said. “I don’t think there was any extra anger, but I think a lot of guys were frustrated for sure with themselves and with the way that we played as a group. We’re not happy when we lose. Giving up a loss to a team that hasn’t won in so long and losing the game in Kansas City is frustrating for us.”
But perhaps all the Red Bulls have to do this week is just click their heels and show up. They’ve been that good at home.
Earlier this season, the Red Bulls picked up all nine points during a three-match homestand and this Sunday’s game against the Galaxy kick-starts another three-game run at Red Bull Arena. Throw in all the pomp and circumstance that comes with a marquee East Coast-West Coast matchup and you’ll have a fascinating match.
“It’s really exciting to play against LA,” Grella said. “I’ve always enjoyed it. They have some pretty good players. We take the challenge very seriously every time we play LA. We know that we’re very good at home. We can’t afford to have a bad run of form at home. The game is of massive importance.”
It’s a match that is huge for a number of reasons. With 16 points, the Red Bulls are in a conference logjam. They sit in a tie with NYCFC and Columbus, six points back of first-place Toronto FC. There’s also the matter of finding the back of the net after being shutout in back-to-back matches, as well as maintaining their unbeaten ways at Red Bull Arena.
This isn’t Kansas City anymore. And it’s not Philadelphia. It’s Harrison, New Jersey, where the Red Bulls have followed the yellow brick road to a number of wins. Three points on Sunday is a must.
Don’t forget to follow Pete on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan. You can also follow @MikeGrella10 and @NewYorkRedBulls