Needing a win and some help to host a first-round playoff game, the New York Red Bulls look to take care of what they can control Sunday when they close the regular season on the road against the Montreal Impact.
The Red Bulls (14-13-8) are fifth on 45 points and can finish no worse than sixth since they are guaranteed to finish with more victories than seventh-place New England. New York is also one point behind likely first-round opponent D.C. United, so a victory over the already-eliminated Impact (11-17-5) coupled with United failing to beat first-year club FC Cincinnati on the road would give Chris Armas’ team a game at Red Bull Arena.
“We’ve battled before in playoff matches, and now it becomes a playoff type of match for us and a must-win in our minds,” Armas told ProSoccer USA. “I think it becomes, quite honestly, more about us. We have a lot to play for.
“We’ve played in tough matches in Montreal, we want to go into the playoffs with a decisive victory,” Armas added. “And we’re going to throw a lot at the game.”
Home field could loom large considering New York is 5-0-5 in its last 10 matches at Red Bull Arena versus the Black-and-Red and 9-1-6 in the last 16. That included a scoreless draw versus United last Sunday when the Red Bulls recorded their third straight shutout and keeper Luis Robles did not have to make a save for his ninth clean sheet.
Christian Casseres came closest to breaking the deadlock just after the hour, but his well-placed flick on target was turned away with an equally superb save by United keeper Bill Hamid.
The Impact will at least have the consolation of being Voyageurs Cup champions, but the first stages of the rebuild have begun with Tuesday’s hiring of Olivier Renard as sporting director. Renard, a former keeper previously served in the role in Belgium with both KV Mechelen and Standard Liege, where he won two cups in three seasons and helped build a team currently in the group stages of the Europa League.
“I won’t be the one deciding if the Impact will line up in a 4-2-2 or 4-3-3 formation,” Renard told the club’s official website. “What I can do is talk about our way of recruiting. In modern football, speed makes the difference, and playing a vertical game. Those criteria will be at the forefront of our recruiting style.
“But we can’t throw everything out that’s been done here. There are players that are playing below their level at the moment.”
The Impact snapped a three-match losing streak with a 1-1 draw versus MLS Cup champion Atlanta United on Sunday but are 1-4-1 in league play since Wilmer Cabrera replaced the fired Remi Garde on Aug. 21.
Montreal is looking to complete the double over New York after recording a 2-1 road win May 8 when Maxi Urruti set up Zakaria Diallo’s equalizer on 64 minutes before converting from the spot in the 79th. Defender Aaron Long, who was named to the U.S. roster for upcoming CONCACAF Nations League matches, had given the Red Bulls a 1-0 lead in the 36th minute.
New York is 0-7-2 in its last nine trips to Montreal in all competitions after winning its first match there in 2012 and gone 398 minutes without a goal in Quebec since Lloyd Sam’s goal gave the Red Bulls a 1-1 draw in 2015.