It wasn’t exactly the way the Red Bulls envisioned heading into the Major League Soccer postseason after spending their way to the second-highest payroll in the league during the offseason.
But they’ll take it just the same.
Saturday night’s scoreless draw against Sporting Kansas City at Red Bulls Arena before a capacity crowd of 25,219 assured the team of the fourth seed in the upcoming playoffs.
The Red Bulls will face fifth-seeded Houston in an elimination game to start the postseason.
“We’re in; that’s it,” Red Bulls’ captain Thierry Henry said after Saturday night’s 0-0 draw with Kansas City. “The only thing you know is that you made it.”
The Red Bulls end their regular season at Philadelphia next weekend.
“This was one of the better games we’ve played,” Red Bulls Coach Hans Backe said. “Ninety minutes of energy, lot of chances for us. I have to be pleased, even though it ended 0-0.”
A month ago, Kansas City came into Red Bull Arena, pressured the home team and scored two early goals. The game exposed the Red Bulls’ habit of allowing early goals as they have given up a league-high 12 in the first 15 minutes.
Saturday was a different story. With Backe making four changes from his club’s last game — most notably inserting Rafael Marquez (whose most recent start was Sept. 22 at New England) in central defense and Connor Lade wide on the right side of the defense — the Red Bulls controlled the tempo and were the more dangerous team from the outset.
To its credit, Kansas City, which has yielded only 26 goals this season, the fewest in the league, held firm. It has not allowed a goal from a corner kick all season, including nine on Saturday.
“Our defense was a lot better; we needed to fix it,” said the Red Bulls’ Tim Cahill, who played the final five minutes with his left arm cradled to his chest after his wrist was stepped on. “We played hard in the midfield, and Rafa and Connor did well.”
Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles faced only one shot on goal, which came in the game’s 85th minute.
The Red Bulls had the better scoring opportunities all game, coming close in the 23rd minute when Connor Lade, overlapping on the right, slid a pass to an unmarked Dax McCarty in the middle of the field. McCarty’s low, right-footed shot from 30 yards was parried wide by Jimmy Nielsen, right to Kenny Cooper. But Cooper’s shot from a sharp angle sailed high.
In the second half, Nielsen, who recorded his 15th shutout of the season, cut off a cross from McCarty, and a minute later the lissome Henry cut the ball around a defender and forced Nielsen to make a glove save with his right hand.
“You have to take a lot of importance from this game, the way we started,” Henry said. “As I’ve said before, all our games are must-wins.”
He added: “We learned that whenever Kansas City, a really good team, has a bad game, they still grab points. When we do that, play bad, we lose. Most of the time, when you’re not a great team, you lose. Even if we didn’t beat them, we left something in their minds, and hopefully we see them again in the playoffs.”