When the New York Red Bulls step on the field to take on Vancouver Whitecaps FC at BC Place Saturday, it will be the first of five games over the course of 15 days. It’s a brutal stretch in the dog days of August, but one that will likely determine come September if the club is a serious Supporters’ Shield contender.
At the moment, the Red Bulls’ 2.04 points per game is best in the league and they sit one point behind Atlanta United with a game in hand.
This first game of a stretch that will see the Red Bulls (15-6-2) play Saturday-Wednesday-Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday capped by a match at Montreal on Sept 1 is arguably the most dangerous.
That’s because the final Hudson River Derby match against New York City FC comes Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.
Red Bulls coach Chris Armas warns that the Whitecaps are the wrong team to overlook, especially at BC Place.
“There’s little room for error, especially against good teams on the road,” he told reporters after training Wednesday. “Vancouver has shown that, that if you’re not ready to play, it’s a long way to go to get your butt kicked.”
The Whitecaps (9-9-6) will be desperate for a win after falling in the Canadian Championship final Wednesday night at Toronto. They sit just two points below the playoff line in the West, while the Red Bulls can move into first place in the East with a win.
“Vancouver is a good team, they’re especially good at home and they’ve always given us problems,” Armas said. “Typically known [as] stingy defensively, comfortable in a deeper block defensively and then that sets up for a counter attack, which they’re number one in the league in counter attacks and transitions … they can sit back, be organized, disciplined, and catch you going the other way.”
The Red Bulls, who come into the game winners of five of their last six games, are second in the league with six road wins — one behind Atlanta. That includes grinding out a 1-0 victory at Chicago last Saturday.
“I think our defense is the key,” winger Danny Royer said. “It’s great having those guys in the back. When you see the entire season, there’s a lot of guys who can put out fires. They’re really compact and really tough to play against. Not only the defenders, but in general as a team we’re more compact than before maybe. When we have a good day of pressing that’s really hard to play through us. It’s pretty hard for the opponent to find solutions.”
With five games in 15 days, defender Aaron Long expects roster rotation but “lucky for us our roster is very deep and we have a lot of confidence in all our guys.”
Armas isn’t as concerned about his lineup in the the fixture congestion.
“We have to consider it,” Armas said. “But we don’t have to overthink it.”