The New York Red Bulls and their franchise-best unbeaten streak kept rolling this past weekend, now standing at 12 league matches and 15 across all competitions. A streak such as this should have a team full of confidence heading into the final portion of the regular season and ready for the MLS playoffs.
But the current stretch has been full of twists, turns, and two-goal leads disappearing faster than Don Garber at a promotion/relegation meeting. This past Sunday’s match at Toronto FC followed a familiar script, as a second half advantage saw the game end in a 3-3 draw.
The Red Bulls are now preparing for the final four games of the regular season, and with three of them at home there is plenty of reason to believe they will finish up in a positive manner.
Looking at the all-time best league unbeaten streaks, there are lessons that can be learned for the club moving forward towards MLS Cup 2016.
All-Time MLS Unbeaten Streaks and MLS Cup: What the New York Red Bulls Can Learn
2010 FC DALLAS – 19 games
FC Dallas was riding high in 2010. An impressive march from May to October saw the team tie an MLS record with a 19-game regular season unbeaten streak.
League MVP David Ferreira, Brek Shea and Dax McCarty led a talented squad all the way to the MLS Cup final against the Colorado Rapids. But an unfortunate own goal from defender George John gave the Rapids a 2-1 victory in extra time and their first league championship.
Dallas were the better side, but let an opportunity slip away. In the same respect in 2016, the Red Bulls will need to put away teams when they are ahead. Moving forward, a lost lead could easily result in zero points instead of one for New York.
And in the playoffs, it could mean the end of the line.
2004 COLUMBUS CREW SC – 19 games
The 2004 Columbus Crew put together one of the finest unbeaten runs in MLS history, going 18 games unbeaten from early July right up into the MLS playoffs. Kyle Martino, Frankie Hejduk and Edson Buddle were part of a talented and motivated squad that captured the Supporters’ Shield and eventually added a 19th consecutive victory at the start of the 2005 season.
But the Eastern Conference semifinals against the New England Revolution is where their 2004 MLS Cup journey ended.
Taylor Twellman, Clint Dempsey and an incredible performance from New England goalkeeper Matt Reis brought frustration and postseason elimination for Columbus.
Injuries played a role in the Crew’s struggles, and the Red Bulls have certainly had their fair share of these issues in 2016. As the playoffs approach, it is crucial that head coach Jesse Marsch has his players fit and ready to perform.
2010 REAL SALT LAKE – 18 games
Real Salt Lake and manager Jason Kreis brought an impressive 14-game unbeaten streak in league play into the 2010 MLS Cup playoffs (adding another four to start 2011 and reach 18 matches). A strong defense anchored by Nick Rimando, Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave helped to provide clean sheets in eight of those 14 games heading into the postseason.
Kyle Beckerman commanded the midfield and Costa Rican international forward Alvaro Saborio led the club in scoring with 18 goal across all competitions. But a first leg victory by eventual Western Conference champions FC Dallas in the conference semifinals helped to end Salt Lake’s championship dreams early.
Part of what doomed the 2010 MLS Cup for Real Salt Lake was their run in the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League. The team finished first in a difficult group that year, beating out Cruz Azul (MEX), Toronto FC (CAN) & Arabe Unido (PAN) in their run to the finals. The extra matches certainly had an effect on fatigue and fitness heading into the MLS playoffs.
The group stage was taxing for RSL, and the Red Bulls still feature one more Champions League match on their schedule next week in Guatemala against Antigua GFC before the final three regular season games in October. Marsch will want to rotate his squad effectively and have his side focused on the playoffs.
A long unbeaten streak can certainly set a team up for success, but the nature of the MLS Cup playoffs essentially make it a brand new season. The New York Red Bulls and their current run of form will be put to the test in a few weeks.