In January, following Mike Petke's sudden dismissal as manager of the New York Red Bulls, most pegged the club for a season filled with road bumps and woes.
Instead, the Red Bulls stand atop the league standings for the second time in three seasons.
Guided by manager Jesse Marsch, the Red Bulls finished off a Supporters' Shield-winning campaign Sunday, beating the Chicago Fire 2-1 at Toyota Park to finish the season with 60 points and outlast FC Dallas for the league's best record.
Despite FC Dallas's 2-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes that also gave the Western Conference club 60 points, the Red Bulls prevailed by having an edge of six in goal differential, which is the second tiebreaker (both had 18 wins, which is the first tiebreaker). Both clubs entered the day on 57 points.
First-half goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan took care of business for the Red Bulls early and ensured the club took home the silverware, but they were made to sweat it out a little with Gilberto's second-half goal for Chicago.
As a result of winning the Shield, the Red Bulls have the inside track on hosting MLS Cup, provided they navigate through the Eastern Conference playoffs.
So how did the Red Bulls do it? Bradley Wright-Phillips followed his record-tying 27-goal season with 17 in 2015 to lead the team again, despite fears that Thierry Henry's departure would limit his attacking chances. New addition Mike Grella (nine goals, seven assists) and Lloyd Sam (10 goals, seven assists) provided another pair of consistent attacking options. New signings Sacha Kljestan (team-record-tying 14 assists) and Felipe joined Dax McCarty to form a stable central midfield trio, young center back Matt Miazga enjoyed a strong season anchoring the back line and goalkeeper Luis Robles came up big time and again to provide a safety valve in net.
The Red Bulls turn their attention to the playoffs as they vie for their first MLS Cup. The club fell a game short of the final last season and has appeared in the title game once, falling to the Columbus Crew in 2008.
EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS
1. New York Red Bulls
2. Columbus Crew
WILD CARD MATCHUPS
3. Montreal Impact vs. 6. Toronto FC
4. D.C. United vs. 5. New England Revolution
WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS
1. FC Dallas
2. Vancouver Whitecaps
WILD CARD MATCHUPS
3. Portland Timbers vs. 6. Sporting Kansas City
4. Seattle Sounders vs. 5. LA Galaxy