The New York Red Bulls were a very average team a year ago. Sure, they made the playoffs and advanced to the MLS Cup, but the bottom line is they were a sub-.500 team at 10-11-9 and only made the playoffs because of a quirky league rule.
Despite finishing fifth in the East, New York was awarded the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference by finishing with one more point in the standings than Colorado.
It might take even more smoke and mirrors for New York to make the playoffs this year. Four games into the season, the Red Bulls own a 0-2-2 record and are arguably the worst team in MLS right now with one goal.
The attack has been dubbed putrid by local sports writers, but even that might be a compliment, with how bad the Red Bulls have been. They lost 3-0 at Seattle to open the season, tied New England in Week 2 by surrendering a stoppage time equalizer, lost at Chicago 1-0, despite a man advantage for 76 minutes, and last week had a whopping three shots in a 0-0 draw at Houston.
Wholesale line-up changes might be in order this Saturday, when Real Salt Lake comes to town for its final appearance at Giants Stadium. New York will be moving into its brand new 25,189-seat Red Bull Arena next year, a stadium that will surely be the MLS crown jewel when completed.
The move can't come soon enough for Clint Mathis, who's played countless games at Giants Stadium both as a visitor and as a member of New York's team on two different stints.
"It's one of those things where not too many soccer players like turf in general, whether you're on the team or coming in to play as the away team," said Mathis. "The type of turf it is, it's just difficult for soccer in general, unless it's a little wet and the ball can move a bit. In some spots, it has holes. In other spots, it has too much rubber."
That move is a long way off, however, and New York must deal with its dormant attack now. It ranks 10th in the league in shots and 14th in shots on goal. Designated player Juan Pablo Angel isn't putting away his limited chances, but he's also getting very little supply from the rest of his underachieving teammates.
"They have some good players — it just seems like they haven't got everything finely tuned and everyone on the same page, but you never know, that could all happen this weekend," said Mathis. "We definitely can't look at them on their past results."
For all of its deficiencies in the attack, New York's defense has been pretty stout after a dismal opener in Seattle, with two goals allowed in its past three matches.