HANOVER, N.J. — A run of five games in 15 days midfielder Tyler Adams described as “unbelievably hard” is in the rear-view window fo the New York Red Bulls. Now rested and rejuvenated, the Red Bulls are ready for the regular season stretch drive beginning Sunday afternoon against longtime rival D.C. United at Audi Field.
“I think for the team, in general, it was perfect,” Adams said after training Friday. “We got 4-5 days off during that timespan and everyone was able to collect their legs, get some energy, spend some time with family and decompress from soccer.”
Adams’ rest was limited. He was one of eight Red Bulls players called up by their national teams for the international break.
The first-team numbers may have been a bit thin during the week, but the return of the eight — Adams, Tim Parker and Aaron Long (United States), Michael Amir Murillo and Fidel Escobar (Panama), Kemar Lawrence (Jamaica), Derrick Etienne (Haiti) and Cristian Casseres (Venezuela U-20) — brought back a jolt of energy on Friday.
“It was louder today, the spirit was great. Guys come back a little taller and their confidence is high, but you always feel great coming back to the boys,” Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said. “That’s where we’re at. We had an influx of the energy, the spirit, the quality, a backline that we’ve been missing. It’s great to have everyone back in training.”
The shift back to league play for the Red Bulls brings about a familiar foe in D.C. United. They’ve played twice this season — with New York claiming a pair of 1-0 victories, most recently at Red Bull Arena three weeks ago.
The Red Bulls have already claimed the Atlantic Cup, the trophy presented to the winner of the season series. A three-game sweep would certainly be great for bragging rights, but goalkeeper Luis Robles said there’s more at stake Sunday afternoon.
“When you look at the Supporters’ Shield race, they’re just the next team that stands in our way of three points,” he said.
The Red Bulls (17-7-4) entered Week 29 atop the Shield race, but were supplanted by Atlanta United following a 3-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids Saturday afternoon. New York can retake the lead with a win on Sunday against a D.C. United side that is simply trying to reach the playoffs.
Since back-to-back losses to the Red Bulls and Philadelphia Union, the Black-and-Red have taken seven points from their next three games — beating Atlanta and Minnesota United and tying New York City FC.
D.C. United (9-11-7) are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, five points below the playoff line with two games in hand on sixth-place Montreal.
“For us, it’s important to try and keep them out of the playoffs, of course,” Adams said. “It’s not a team that you want to play in the playoffs exactly. They’re a good team and all the teams that are fighting for that final playoff spot are good teams. We want to try to stop them in their tracks.”