By Marco D'Onofrio
When the New York Red Bulls held a "town hall" meeting after they fired former head coach Mike Petke in January, fans made it abundantly clear that they were not happy with the direction the organization was going in. Although in the end, it appears that they were the ones who were wrong.
Despite the big names that their newest rival New York City FC brought in, and the lack of star power that the Red Bulls possess, the team is sitting pretty atop of the Eastern Conference standings and haven't needed to break the bank to do it.
With the win against the Montreal Impact on Wednesday night, New York has all but sealed the top spot in the East and are three points up on FC Dallas in the race for the Supporters' Shield.
They've got an important game away to Toronto FC next week, before finishing the season off against the East's two worst teams in the Philadelphia Union and Chicago Fire. Given their schedule down the stretch and the current position they find themselves in, there is no reason that the Red Bulls shouldn't be able to bring home their second Supporters' Shield title in three seasons.
Head coach Jesse Marsch has his side firing on all cylinders at the moment, having won three of their last four games and five of their last seven. Not only do they have the best record in all of Major League Soccer, they also sport the league's best goal differential at +16.
“I still feel like people undervalue us,” midfielder Sacha Kljestan said at the end of September.
“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 Red Bulls have been an inspiration to many this season, proving that you don't need to sign major international players to be competitive. Despite teams around the league bringing some of the planet's most famous strikers such as Didier Drogba, David Villa, or Sebastian Giovinco, New York is tied with Toronto FC for the most goals in the entire MLS with 55.
The real test for Marsch's men though will come in the playoffs, an area that has historically not been kind to the Red Bulls. Despite finishing first in the Eastern Conference on three separate occasions, they've only managed to make the MLS Cup once, falling 3-1 to the Columbus Crew in 2008.
This year seems to be different though. They are no longer the big bad juggernaut from New York, but rather a quiet humble team who many thought had no chance of accomplishing much in 2015.
Only time will tell if the New York Red Bulls can truly go on to shock the world, but at the moment fans are just enjoying the ride.