NEW YORK -- To the average New York City area sports fan, the Red Bulls are nothing more than a footnote.
Browse through the city's sports newspapers and websites and you might find the Red Bulls in the other sports section, with the key word being might. Let's not even mention the team's well-known attendance issues despite having MLS's top soccer stadium. It's a problem that team star and captain Thierry Henry acknowledged to Goal.com in a June interview.
"New York is a difficult market," Henry told Goal.com. "It's not like you're the only team in town. You're not the second one, third or fourth. It's definitely a difficult one."
He continued: "For example, this year we had a game at home where the Rangers were playing, the Yankees were playing and the Knicks were on TV. How do you expect the Rangers fans to not watch the game on TV? Or not watch the Knicks play the Heat in the playoffs or go to the Yankees game? That's really tough."
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Well, Henry's wishes might finally be answered.
Thanks to an underwhelming performance by the New York Yankees against the Detroit Tigers and the possibility of an NHL lockout - which would mean no games for the Rangers, Islanders and the New Jersey Devils - the Red Bulls could finally turn some heads in the city and its surrounding areas. Yes, the NBA is starting its season soon and there is still of plenty of football to be played by the Giants and Jets but the Red Bulls will be competing in the postseason.
They can't mess it up.
Despite having Major League Soccer's highest payroll for the past two seasons, the Red Bulls tend to be more of a tease than a team with any substance. The club has had disappointing results against MLS playoff sides this season with a 5-6-6 record against elite competition. Then there is the team's recent front-office controversy.
The Red Bulls "demoted" their general manager, Erick Soler, earlier this month to bring in former AS Monaco president Jerome De Bontin, even though the team was second in the Eastern Conference at the time. The move led many to believe that current manager Hans Backe would be next, especially with this being the final year of his contract.
Backe alluded to his lame-duck status by telling a Swedish newspaper that he would be returning to his home country after not receiving a contract extension. Backe later backtracked to the New York media, claiming that his statements were taken out of context. Still, out of all of this madness, a perfect storm could be brewing.
Looking at the history of NYC sports teams that have won titles over the past decade, all of them have been involved with embattled coaches whose jobs have been on the line.
Joe Girardi led the Yankees to a World Series title in 2009 after narrowly missing the playoffs (a big faux pas in the Steinbrenner house) the year before. Tom Coughlin was rumored to be on the chopping block during both seasons where the Giants won their Super Bowls in 2008 and 2012.
Sometimes controversy and pressure can lead to inspired performances when it counts, something the Red Bulls have lacked over the past three years. With a roster that features Henry, Kenny Cooper, Sebastien Le Toux and Tim Cahill among others, there is no reason why the Red Bulls can't win this year.
If they do, hopefully the Red Bulls can be spared a few lines for the local sports pages.