HANOVER, N.J. — In the business end of the season, the New York Red Bulls embark on their longest, and arguably most vital, business trip.
It is two of the toughest road venues in Major League Soccer and when they finally return to New Jersey six days after their trip begins, there will be just three games left in the regular season.
For the first time, the fans in the South Ward chanted for coach Chris Armas’ firing. But its through adversity, Armas said, the true test of a team’s character shines.
“I can tell you the group is together, but there’s no mistake we know exactly where we’re at right now,” Armas said. “And it’s a fun place to be, when your back’s against the wall a little bit, and things haven’t gone our way all the time. But the team is fighting, they’re sticking together The spirit is high in the team. And there’s a lot of real guys. The approach every day has been great. And we believe we’re going to make a major push here, a major push, and make some noise.
The international break, and this road trip, come at a perfect time, according to captain and goalkeeper Luis Robles and defender Aaron Long.
“It’s good to have a break, a mental reset,” Long said. “The guys feel like they’re pretty spunky coming back. Everyone seems ready to go and healthy so it’s good.”
Robles spoke of a tense first week of training following the Rapids’ defeat, their fifth at Red Bull Arena this year. That mentality changed this week, though, with a “team day” consisting of pickup basketball and yoga at a local gym and a meal afterward.
“The guys are relaxed, they’re focused now,” Robles said. “It was really good to just sort of hit pause on all of it. I think everyone’s in a really good space mentally to perform on Sunday.”
Six days on the road should also help that bond, giving the Red Bulls an “us against the world” mentality.
“It will be a great opportunity to go get some meals together outside of just the hotel,” Robles said. “And I think this can be a really good experience for us.”
Of course, a successful road trip is measured in points, which are paramount for the Red Bulls, who are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, one point below having a first-round home game and four points above the playoff line.
“I don’t really want to put too much emphasis on just one game. I think when you look at the last five games as a whole, they’re all going to be significant,” Robles said. “There has to be a sense within our group of urgency because it is crunch time and all the teams are jockeying for position in the standings. It’s really tight.”
In addition to the usual film study on their opponents, the Red Bulls watched highlights of Kemar Lawrence helping lead Jamaica to a pair of Concacaf Nations League B victories and Kaku scoring his first goal for Paraguay in a 4-0 victory over Jordan in an international friendly in Amman Tuesday.
“We’re a real team. We’ve been through a lot this year,” Armas said. “It’s not talked about a lot out there, but the team has been through a lot and they’ve stuck together. We’re standing strong. And we’re going to go after the last five games.”