HANOVER, N.J. — Beating Atlanta United twice during the regular season is impressive.
But doing so without three of your best players?
It is perhaps the greatest examples of the New York Red Bulls having arguably the most depth in Major League Soccer.
“I don’t know if we’re the deepest team,” Red Bulls winger Danny Royer said after training on Friday. “But there’s one thing for sure, every time when somebody had to step out because of injury or suspension or whatever, the guy who came into the team they had to step up and I think we’ve always done a great job the entire season in terms of that. Big credit to the entire squad then when we had to step up that we did.”
Few gave the Red Bulls a chance, especially going to Mercedes-Benz Stadium against high-flying Atlanta with a backup in the net.
But Ryan Meara, who was making his first MLS start since July 8, 2012, made six saves in a 3-1 road victory.
The return leg was arguably the most anticipated game of the regular season with many dubbing it the MLS game of the year. With the Supporters’ Shield in the balance, the Red Bulls took the field against the Five Stripes on Sept. 30 at Red Bull Arena minus Tyler Adams, who sat because of back spasms, and Bradley Wright-Phillips, who served a one-game suspension due to yellow card accumulation.
Again, the Red Bulls were considered the underdog.
“It speaks to the depth of our team that we have guys that can step in,” Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said. “Remember on that day Marc Rzatkowski steps in and plays tremendous and Ryan Meara has a career game [in the first meeting] as well.”
The common denominator, according to midfielder Kaku, is the Red Bulls system.
“The key is the philosophy the club has,” Kaku said through a translator. “Because they teach it from the academy level up, once the guys are called up for the first team, they understand what they need to do in their jobs and that’s what helps us become successful.”
Now, after winning both regular season games en route to capturing the Supporters’ Shield for the third time in six years and being at full strength for Sunday’s first leg of the Eastern Conference finals, the Red Bulls should finally be considered favorites right?
“I don’t think we’re the favorites,” Kaku said. “If anything, it seems like people are picking Atlanta to be the favorites. We’ve been playing our game and we like to play low-key, it’s fine, but for the most part we don’t usually get the respect we deserve when it comes to how good this club has been for a while. But we’re going out there and we’re going to go after it just like we always do.”