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Have the New York Red Bulls figured it out at the perfect time?

Back-to-back clean sheets have the New York Red Bulls “looking like us” heading into the final games of the regular season and playoffs.

Sep 22, 2019; Harrison, NJ, USA; Philadelphia Union midfielder Ilsinho (25) plays the ball against New York Red Bulls midfielder Cristian Casseres Jr. (23) during the second half at Red Bull Arena. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

HARRISON, N.J. — Clean sheets have become so rare for the New York Red Bulls that goalkeeper Luis Robles jokes the team stopped talking about them.

But on Sunday, the Red Bulls earned consecutive shutouts for just the second time this season, defeating the Philadelphia Union 2-0 at Red Bull Arena.

They limited an explosive Union side to few chances by imposing their defensive will on the game.

I think Philly had the chance in the first half and then late Kasper [Przybylko] volley in the second half. But that was it,” Robles said. “We weren’t giving him much. You see the way that the guys are throwing their bodies, putting it all on the line. … We’re starting to look like us. And that’s really, really encouraging.”

The Red Bulls were wary of Przybylko on crosses and his ability to run in behind the defense. Kemar Lawrence neutralized Fafa Picault and they locked up the Union’s main playmaker in Haris Medunjanin thanks to a dogged defensive effort from Cristian Casseres Jr. and Sean Davis.

“We know Medunjanin pulls a lot of the strings going forward, they have very fast and dynamic wingers trying to get behind and Przybylko can kind of do it all, he comes underneath, he runs it behind and he’s very good in the box,” Aaron Long said. “There was a lot of talking points on the day. We had a couple close calls, saving some stuff out the line and whatever, but for the most part it looked good.”

Through 32 games, the Red Bulls have conceded 48 goals. That’s not on surface an alarming number, considering FC Cincinnati’s record-tying 74 goals against. But its 15 more than a year earlier, when New York had the league’s best defensive mark and set a record for points in a season with 71.

Armas said the club sat down to watch all 48 goals conceded and said a lot of it has come down to individual mistakes. He said the backline is a “prideful” unit, and perhaps no one embodies that more than Lawrence.

“I always say that we have the best defenders in the league, and I stick by my word,” Lawrence said. “We mess up at times, we make mistakes, but I always tell you guys, when we start to limit those mistakes, it’s going to be a difference, you’re going to see the class when we stop making the silly mistakes. When we stop being complacent, you’re going to see the type of defenders we really are.”

No time like the present.

Taxi runs over Fafa

Lawrence never shies away from speaking his mind and he had a strong opinion of Picault’s complaints to the officials Sunday.

Lawrence said Picault was asking for a foul on the fullback on a 50-50 challenge in which Lawrence admittedly shoved the Union winger.

“That’s my job, to frustrate wingers and I like that,” Lawrence said. “He’s not going to outrun me ever so if they want to play in behind, fine, if they want to play to his feet then I’ll face you up and I’ll defend.”

What’s on the line?

The Red Bulls clinched a 10th consecutive berth in the MLS Cup playoffs before beating the Union. But one reason why they’re not satisfied with just getting into the postseason is because they are locked in a battle to earn a home playoff game.

D.C. United are currently in fourth place, one point ahead of the Red Bulls with two games remaining for both. The top four seeds in both conferences are home which, in the new one-off format of the MLS Cup playoffs, is vital.

The Red Bulls last regular season game at Red Bull Arena is Sunday against D.C. United.

“We want to build momentum going into the playoffs,” Long said. “We’ve been doing that the last two games and if we can keep that rolling for two more games, it’s gonna be huge for us. That’s all we’re focused on really is keeping this thing rolling right now.”

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