New York Red Bulls maintaining chip-on-shoulder mentality despite regular season success

Not only does the club sit atop the East right now, but it also became the first team to clinch a playoff spot and is now thoroughly entrenched in an effort to bring the Supporters’ Shield back to Red Bull Arena for the second time in three years.

HANOVER, N.J. – It wasn’t all that long ago when support for the New York Red Bulls was hard to find.

As the 2015 season approached, positivity was hardly swirling around Red Bull Arena as an offseason of change signaled the start to new era for the Red Bulls. Fans reached a breaking point when then-newly appointed sporting director Ali Curtis showed head coach Mike Petke the door.

So it’s no surprise that this New York team adopted an underdog, “us vs. them” mentality as a side that felt disrespected. The Red Bulls have since pointed to a chip on their shoulder that has driven them to rise above the doubters and prove to the rest of the league that they belong.

The team has done just that. Not only does the club sit atop the East right now, but it also became the first team to clinch a playoff spot and is now thoroughly entrenched in an effort to bring the Supporters’ Shield back to Red Bull Arena for the second time in three years. The Red Bulls may even be considered the favorites.

So given their success both on and off the pitch, has the chip on their collective shoulder gone for good?

“Absolutely not,” captain Dax McCarty told MLSsoccer.com. “That’s something that we’ve carried with us all season. Teams talk about us as a dangerous opponent, but we don’t care. We still feel like we have another level that we can get to, and the only way that we can get to the highest level that we’re capable of is to carry that chip on our shoulder and to go into every game thinking that the other team doesn’t respect us and our abilities and what we’re able to do.”

Earning respect has been a big motivator for the Red Bulls in 2015, and they’ve gone quite some way to doing just that. Despite being tops in MLS in points per game and goal differential, midfielder Sacha Kljestan believes some doubt still lingers.

“I still feel like people undervalue us,” he said. “At the beginning of the season no one picked us to make the playoffs, maybe we were supposed to finish fifth or sixth in the East. We’ve done a great job of proving people wrong, but also proving to ourselves that we do have a good team, we have a great identity as a club and we’re continuing to get better even as the season pushes on late. For us, the motivation is still there.”

The end goal is still very much up for grabs as MLS Cup remains the ultimate prize.

“We can’t lose that chip on our shoulder because if we do, that’s when we’ll become complacent,” McCarty explained. “Some teams naturally become complacent when they’re doing well. But the great part about this team is that we don’t. We’ve learned that we’re not good enough to get complacent. We’re still learning about ourselves and trying to find our best level, and we’re never going to do that if we become complacent.”

With their goal now firmly within their reach, the Red Bulls won’t be spending any time to look back at what they’ve accomplished. After all, head coach Jesse Marsch has bigger goals in mind.

“There are a lot of little things that we can still show what we’re about and earn everybody’s respect,” Marsch said after training on Tuesday. “Ultimately, that comes down to finding ways to win championships. It’s about getting this club over the hump. We have an opportunity in front of us and we all know that. We earned the right to be in a good spot here at the end of the year, but that doesn’t mean anything.”

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