HANOVER, N.J. — Every team preaches the importance, but the New York Red Bulls truly embrace the “next man up” mentality.
The team has shown, in some of the biggest regular season games, they can still get wins despite missing some of their key players.
“In this team, guys feel a responsibility I think to each other, and their commitment level is high, so when guys get their opportunity — one they want to take it and two, they don’t want to let each other down,” Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said. “That’s how they work. I think there are clearly defined roles where guys, because we have a distinct way of playing, understand when their number’s called. The output physically, emotionally, they can meet the demands from a soccer standpoint.”
Rewind back to nearly exactly one year ago when the Red Bulls were going to Mercedes-Benz Stadium to face offensive juggernaut Atlanta United without goalkeeper Luis Robles, whose MLS record ironman streak ended at 183 games due to a knee injury.
Ryan Meara stepped in and, in his first MLS start for the Red Bulls since 2012, put forth a Man-of-the-Match performance in a 3-1 victory.
The return fixture was billed as the ‘Game of the Year’ in MLS, a Supporters’ Shield clash in late September. The influential duo of Tyler Adams (back spasms) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (yellow card accumulation suspension) were sidelined, but the Red Bulls put forth their most impressive performance of the season, a comprehensive 2-0 victory that helped catapult them to their third Shield in six years.
They did so without a two-time Golden Boot award winner in Wright-Phillips and the reigning MLS Defender of the Year in Aaron Long, who sat due to a hamstring injury.
“I think it’s great with the group that we have, even if we’re missing a few key guys, we’re very confident in our team and how we train and guys are very motivated to get on the field and play well,” midfielder Sean Davis said. “It doesn’t matter who we have on the field on the day I think we’re all really up for the challenge.”
Brian White stepped in for BWP and scored his second goal of the season, while Sean Nealis filled in for Long and netted his first MLS goal, while anchoring the backline in front of Meara, who made four saves.
“We’ve got a good locker room, good bunch of players, not only the guys that start, but the guys on the bench are not dressing for games,” White said. “So anytime someone’s out, it’s next man up and we trust them that they’re going to put their all into the game and do everything they can for the team to get a good result.”
While it appears Robles, who was upgraded to ‘probable’ on the Red Bulls injury report following training Friday, is likely to return, Wright-Phillips and Long will again be sidelined when red-hot Atlanta United come to Red Bull Arena.
As recent history has shown, the Red Bulls don’t expect much to change Sunday afternoon.
“It’s a tribute to what [Sporting Director] Denis [Hamlett] and Chris have done to build this roster, but it just shows anyone can step in and find a way to be successful,” midfielder Kaku said through a translator. “They do a great job with the USL team here as well, so when we have guys who are able to come up to the first team, they’re able to contribute. We believe in ourselves, especially like when Ryan is stepping in when Luis is out and Brian also does the same thing when Brad is out. It’s just playing together and playing the Red Bull way.”