Fishkin: Recapping a memorable Red Bulls season

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by MARK FISHKIN
Staff Writer

At the end, in Thierry Henry’s last few touches in the last of his 135 appearances with New York, the ball simply would not go into the net.  His picture-perfect rainbow to the foot of Tim Cahill was blasted into the Gillette Stadium stands.  His last dangerous touch on the ball came as injury time began and ended in a collision with the New England keeper.

Had either of those chances wound up in the back of the net, Red Bulls fans would be spending the day making travel plans to LA and awaiting the MLS Cup ticket allocation email from the Front Office.

Instead, they are glum, not just for failing to secure the club’s first MLS Cup for the nineteenth time, but also because the best-ever player to wear the shirt, Thierry Henry, said his goodbye to the club.

With Henry’s departure will come a new “cycle” in club history as Mike Petke noted after Saturday’s match. The Red Bulls’ new philosophy will shift from one of big stars and big salaries to be one of modest investments and leveraging the club’s rich, successful youth academy.

Before we look to the future, though, it’s important to look back on what fans will call a frustrating but exhilarating season, despite finishing a single goal from reaching MLS Cup.

This 2014 season started with a whimper from New York in a 4-1 drubbing at BC Place.  The loss kicked off a six-match winless streak, igniting a narrative that the Red Bulls “stand pat” strategy from the Shield campaign of the prior year wasn’t good enough to be competitive.

The team was maddeningly inconsistent, with only four two-match winning streaks in 2014, including the playoffs.  The Red Bulls scored four goals in a match five times, but conceded four twice and five times in a bizarre 5-4 home loss to Chicago in May.

New York chose to focus solely on reaching the MLS Cup playoffs, shrugging off the US Open Cup and the CONCACAF Champions League to get there, much to the dismay of many fans.  The reserves’ inability to score at Salvadoran club CD FAS in late September made the second of two home CCL matches meaningless, depriving fans of a playoff-like match down the stretch.

Despite the flameouts, Petke successfully guided his team into and through the breach of a brutal September schedule, surviving the seven matches in 23 days with a 3-2-2 record, including a 3-1-1 mark in MLS play, nudging the team closer to its fifth-straight postseason appearance.

A season after a magical run to the Supporters Shield, the Red Bulls’ postseason berth was in doubt until the last few weeks of season.  In fact, the team never reached higher than fourth in the Eastern standings after May 10th, giving even seasoned veterans of New York’s roller coaster seasons bouts of anxiety as summer turned to fall.

Throughout the year, Bradley Wright-Phillips was pumping in goals.  Whether served by Henry or not, the Englishman collected three hat tricks this season, including an eight-goals-in-four-matches stretch in April and May, and a five-match scoring streak in June and July. BWP was a single strike away from setting the all-time single-season scoring record, but matching the mark of 27 seemed to fit more with the striker’s unassuming ways.  Wright-Phillips famously (and without a shred of sarcasm) told the ESPN announcing crew that he would “work on his finishing” in the off-season.

Along with BWP’s Golden Boot, a first for a New York player, came the first win in Foxboro since 2002 on June 8th.  The post-season saw the first playoff win in club history over DC, and what was surely the largest crowd to see New York play an MLS opponent at Red Bull Arena on November 23rd in the Eastern Finals.

Of course, these modern Red Bulls have been known to shoot themselves in the foot in the postseason, and this season’s gaffes came courtesy of Roy Miller (silly red card at DC) and Bradley Wright-Phillips’ baffling challenge on New England’s Shuttleworth at Red Bull Arena.

The duo’s absence at Foxboro hurts more given New York’s razor-thin elimination.

New York’s defense simply wasn’t good enough to reach the final.  The Red Bulls conceded two goals in each of its last three playoff matches, including Charlie Davies’ dagger twenty minutes from time on Saturday after a miscommunication between Luis Robles and young Ambroise Oyongo.

There were some major accomplishments for the club in 2014, including an impressive 10-3-4 mark at Red Bull Arena. At one point, New York ripped off seven straight victories at home, reviving the stadium’s “fortress” moniker.  A 4-1 takedown of Seattle in front of the regular season’s lone sellout was a high point, and New York’s first home playoff win since 2005 (and then another) energized the fan base. Peguy Luyindula’s goal at DC in the playoffs sent the 1,250 traveling supporters to nirvana.  Luyindula was terrific down the stretch and in the post-season, and Henry delivered five of his seven postseason assists this year.

At the end, the Red Bulls came up a goal short on a plastic pitch in a raucous Gillette Stadium.

The captain shook many hands, applauded the supporters, brushed off the press and said his goodbye.

The Henry era is over. The season was a wild ride. Once again, the future is uncertain.

Onward.

  • Professional Player/Coach

    I have to ask, how do so many fans view this season as a success? The team underachieved. They should have been in the final the last three years.

    I understand how fans have a special place for Petke as a PLAYER. I don’t understand how they think he’s a good coach. He’s about average. He obviously didn’t learn anything from going overseas in the offseason last year. He can’t make Subs. Let me correct that, won’t make Subs. As poor as Saer Sene played, (even though fans don’t understand how hard it is to fit in mid-season, more on the fans later) why wouldn’t you put in a 6’3 target Forward with 15-20 minutes left? I’m a fan of Connor Lade, but what was he going to doing as a 84th minute Sub? Why not but Bover in who had a great pre-season? Oh wait, genius Petke did the the 91st minute. Not only is the not enough time, but you also kill the time on the clock against you. Brilliant.

    As for the fans, please explain how the front office had a great season? Because they put up a Metro Banner? 8 years after the bought the team? Only because NYC FC is coming? A real ambitious club that’s not cheap.

    Season Ticket Holder’s just because you have tickets, doesn’t mean your opinion matters. Half you guys never kicked a ball. I saw a fan yell “Why is Robles coming out against Arsenal in the 81st?” Oh, yes why not risk a top 3 MLS GK in a friendly game? Brilliant.

    Or the other genius on Metrofanatic, “Henry should hone his coaching skills with the RBNY 23’s team before he goes to Arsenal!” Yes, a guy with that resume should coach the 23’s. Petke should be doing that because unfortunately, working with Hans Backe didn’t help him.

    And for the experts that blame players and say “How can you miss that?” Please, step on the field and try playing. As bad as Geno Smith is for the Jets, I don’t critique him because I never played in the NFL let alone american Football.

    I feel for the true Metro fans, like myself who have been watching for 19 years. True fans that play, breathe, eat, and sleep the game. Not a bunch of 300 pound Chelsea fans holding a beer at the stadium thinking that they are the next Mourinho. So please experts, learn the game, play the game, then speak.

    If you guys want to become better fans, start a petition and get rid of these foreign, clueless owners. Imagine Inter, Roma, Bayern, United, or Barca being bought and having their name changed to Sprite, Coke, or KFC FC? Only in this league. A league were fans think, “Yes! Bring back Bradley and Dempsey. Mix and Bedoya are next!” As much as I love this league, it’s not Europe. The level, passion, coaching, playing isn’t close. Bradley and Dempsey’s form have gone down because they are in MLS. The only smart thing that clueless German coach has said. But that’s story for an other day.

    That being said, Viva Metro