HARRISON, N.J. – For the third time in six years, the New York Red Bulls have claimed Major League Soccer’s Supporters’ Shield.
This time, however, they did so in record-setting fashion.
The Red Bulls claimed the Supporters’ Shield on Sunday, skipping past Atlanta United in the 11th hour with a 1-0 victory over Orlando City in their regular-season finale. New York started the day trailing Atlanta United in the standings by one point, but the narrow win at Red Bull Arena combined with Atlanta’s 3-1 loss away to Toronto FC gave the Red Bulls their latest piece of hardware.
“To see the guys get rewarded, it justifies everything,” Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said. “You can’t take it away. It’s a massive accomplishment for the guys, biggest lead after 34 games. It’s incredible.”
New York, which previously lifted the Supporters’ Shield in 2013 and 2015, also broke the single-season points record set by Toronto a year ago with Sunday’s triumph. The Red Bulls finished the campaign with 71 points, two more than the previous mark. They also set the record for most wins in a season with 22.
The Decision Day victory punctuated another sterling regular season for the Red Bulls. Using its trademark high press and multiple homegrown players from its touted academy, New York dominated from start to finish. It compiled a 22-7-5 record, scoring 62 goals while allowing a league-low 33.
“We’re going in — and I don’t want to jinx it — with a team that’s hard to score against, and on our day we can score against anyone,” star striker Bradley Wright-Phillips said. “That’s where the confidence comes from.”
What made all of those accomplishments even more impressive was that the Red Bulls managed them despite a midseason coaching change. Jesse Marsch left his post in early July to take a job in the German Bundesliga with RB Leipzig, and that left assistant coach Armas to take the helm despite having no prior head coaching experience.
Armas had some hiccups at first, but eventually found his groove and the Red Bulls continued to wreak havoc on the league during the second half of the campaign. One of his biggest wins, and one that was crucial to the Red Bulls’ claiming the Supporters’ Shield, was the 2-0 home triumph over Atlanta United back on Sept. 30. The result brought New York within striking distance of Atlanta in the table and kept the pressure on Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino’s men, who ultimately faltered.
“For us to do it on the last day with this group is truly remarkable,” goalkeeper Luis Robles said. “I know we’re going to enjoy it tonight.”
Wright-Phillips was once again deadly in front of the net, scoring 20 goals and assist on eight others. Robles, a fellow veteran and first-year captain, was also once again exceptional in goal, posting 14 shutouts in 31 appearances.
Of course, he had plenty of help from a stingy back line comprised of Michael Murillo, Tim Parker, Aaron Long and Kemar Lawrence. Parker’s arrival via a trade for midfielder Felipe just before the start of the year was especially vital, as it gave the Red Bulls the final piece they needed for an athletic back line that could effectively play a high line.
“We haven’t had a defense like that,” Robles said.
Other key contributors were playmaker Alejandro “Kaku” Romero Gamarra, who was signed in February, and defensive midfielder Tyler Adams. Kaku stepped up and filled the void left by Sacha Kljestan, scoring six goals and assisting on 14 more while bringing more energy and hustle to the No. 10 spot. Adams, meanwhile, continued to be the Red Bulls’ tenacious pit bull terrier in the center of the park, serving as the main disruptor of the opposition’s play with his speed, determination and grit.
Sean Davis was also an integral part in terms of doing the dirty work, and the club also got solid years from fellow midfielders Daniel Royer, Marc Rzatkowski and Alex Muyl. Royer was the strongest of the bunch, overcoming some early-season scoring woes to finish with 11 goals and two assists.
The Red Bulls will now focus on the postseason as they look to win that all-elusive first MLS Cup. Regardless of how the year ends, though, they have enjoyed another successful regular season that brought another piece of silverware to their trophy cabinet.
“It proves that we’re obviously doing something right,” Wright-Phillips said. “Three in six years, it’s amazing.”