The notional graduation of the New York Red Bulls from also-rans to talented individuals to contending team will be tested on Saturday, when the Red Bulls host Colorado at 4 p.m. at glorious Red Bull Arena.
The 4-1 victory over Toronto FC, on a Toronto pitch that hadn't allowed a visitor to win in nearly a year, made clear that New York could put together a dominant performance. The follow-up 2-0 win at home over San Jose reiterated this argument.
Last week, however, New York fell at Real Salt Lake, 1-0. The frustrating part about this loss is that it would have served as a valuable measuring point for the team- RSL is the defending champions, and are similar to Toronto in their home-field prowess - but the team missed four starters due to international commitments. (Come on, MLS- time to schedule more weeknight games and honor the FIFA windows. Or do you want people coming out to your games so they can't see the leagues brightest stars?)
Colorado, however, is a decided underdog coming into RBA, facing a Red Bulls team now at full strength. It isn't that Colorado is a poor team, with 34 points good for fourth in the Western Conference. They simply aren't in New York's strata - that is, the strata New York played in against Toronto and San Jose.
How will New York handle such a moment? Will they play down to the competition? Or will New York reinforce the increasing optimism that when Hans Backe says the team won't contend until next season, he is entirely too pessimistic?
The answer will tell quite a bit about whether it is time for Backe to change his tune. Pretty heady stuff for a team that won five times all of last season.