Season Preview: New York Red Bulls

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by RUSS McKENZIE

The New York Red Bulls start the 2016 season very differently than they started the prior year. Gone are many of the questions and criticisms from fans and pundits alike. Instead, expectations will be high for the once-overlooked Red Bulls.

When they open their MLS schedule on Sunday, they will raise their second Supporters Shield banner in three years. This one is earned on the back of a careful planning by head coach Jesse Marsch and Sporting Director Ali Curtis, whose 300 page plan may no longer be a pariah, and the execution in play from every player on the Red Bulls roster.

However, even in this celebration of achievement, the Red Bulls can ill afford to look back and rest their laurels on those accomplishments. Instead, it seems that the club, under Marsch’s leadership, still has a lot to prove after a painful exit in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Add in a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League and the organization’s renewed commitment to the US Open Cup, and this season brings another set of challenges to a club that seemed to thrive in the face of adversity last season.

There are some faces departed, most notably Matt Miazga and Roy Miller. There are some new faces as well, including Gideon Baah and a flock of Homegrown players. There’s a bit of a new look to the attack – a two striker system deployed in a 4-2-2-2. That system may be the most influential change of the Red Bulls’ offseason.

Incoming Players: Gideon Baah, Brandon Allen, Tyler Adams, Alex Muyl, Derrick Etienne, Zach Carroll, Justin Bilyeu

Outgoing Players: Matt Miazga, Roy Miller, Santiago Castano

The Schedule:

The Red Bulls depth will be tested early and often this season. New York face a compressed schedule due to the break for Copa America Centenario, US Open Cup, and CONCACAF Champions League. Add in the usual gaggle of national team call ups, and the annual cash grab summer friendlies, and Jesse Marsch’s ”next man up” philosophy will be put to the test.

With that said, this season almost seems like an echo of 2014’s slate, where then-head coach Mike Petke had to manage multiple competitions through a tight schedule. The difference is that Marsch is armed to the teeth in young talent. This caveat makes succeeding a bit more possible.

One thing is for certain — the overall success of the New York Red Bulls this season will be dependent on how well their youth is able to adapt and contribute in the professional environs of MLS

The Core:

Nearly every player in the 2015 roster is back in the fold for 2016. However, with multiple players having career years in 2015, can Marsch’s group repeat their record setting ways in 2016? Will the chip on the shoulder mentality that got them a club record 18 wins last season return?

When Luis Robles was asked about it at Media Day on Wednesday, he said, “I think what’s happened is it will evolve into something bigger. We want to maintain that mentality because that’s going to allow us to remember that we have to fight for every single inch. That no one’s going to just give us something.”

Just like the Red Bulls 2015 season evolved into something grand, the Red Bulls players themselves are looking to build on that in the coming year. It’s a message that has been consistent from the front office to the depth players. Behind the on field leadership of Robles, captain Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips, the Red Bulls will look to build on their 2015 success and put themselves in a position to do something special.

The Youth:

One of the biggest storylines in 2016 — and one that Curtis has doubled down on from last season — is youth development. 2015 saw the Red Bulls add a new layer to the program with their USL side. This, when coupled with the academy, has allowed players like Derrick Etienne, Tyler Adams, and Sean Davis to flourish and find a path to the senior team. In the case of Davis, it has allowed him to remain with the senior team, where he pushes the veterans to play better.

In the off season, Curtis signed nine Homegrown players. While it’s likely that many of the players in that group will start the season in USL play, it gives those players a solid foundation in the style and system of soccer Marsch employs with the senior team. That foundation will make the transition to the senior team easier in the long run. It also allows Marsch the freedom to plug players into a role left open by injury or simply tired legs.

It’s likely that Marsch will feature more squad rotation this season in order to ensure that his troops remain fresh during the long distance marathon that is the MLS Season.

Players to Watch:

Mike Grella

This time last year, Grella was going to be platooned with Sal Zizzo on the wing. When Zizzo went down with injury, Grella stepped into a starting role, took his opportunity and became an integral part of the Red Bulls attack. The result was a career year that saw him nominated for MLS Newcomer of the Year.

Now, with Veron injured, Grella has another opportunity to put a stranglehold on a starting spot right out of the gate – this time as Bradley Wright-Phillips’ strike partner. The role may be a little different this time around, but the opportunity is there for the taking. Is Grella up for the challenge this season? Can he follow up last year’s performance with yet another outstanding year?

Dax McCarty

Another player who had a career year was captain Dax McCarty. McCarty became one of the league’s best midfielders in 2015, earning praise from fans and pundits across the league. He also wore the mantle left by legendary striker Thierry Henry without showing the weight that came from succeeding Henry. How will McCarty adjust to the new formation, and can he follow up his 2015 with and even better performance this season?

Gonzalo Veron

Veron joined the Red Bulls late in the year and seemed to swoon a bit under the title of Designated Player. Veron never quite found a rhythm in 2015, and was unable to make a noticeable impact off the bench or crack the Starting XI.

This season seems to be a different story. Veron has had a full preseason, and has assimilated himself into the club. During training camp, he and Wright-Phillips have developed an almost uncanny partnership as part of a two striker tandem. Although starting the season in sick bay, look for Veron to put himself in a position to succeed in 2016.

Questions

Will the cycle of “build it up to break it down” continue?

It’s no secret that the New York Red Bulls have a reputation, however unspoken, to hand over the reins to a new front office and philosophy every two to three years. Now, with a system that is pleasing to the eye and the pocket book, will the Austrian overlords wipe the slate clean at the end of 2016 yet again? Or will Curtis and Marsch earn what so few have in the past — an extended stay in Harrison?

Can the Red Bulls get over the proverbial hump?

New York enters this season driven to win. According to Robles, they want to win early and often, and across multiple fronts. However, the question that begs to be asked – can these Red Bulls win that first elusive MLS Cup?

After 20 seasons of “That’s so Metro,” Marsch and Co. seem to have a winning formula and belief in each other and the system. In years past, that ingredient was missing. But, will it be enough to push New York to playoff glory in MLS?

Predictions

The Red Bulls are a complicated bunch. However, no one should count this group out — even when the Eastern Conference has gotten better in the offseason. The sense of purpose is there once again for Marsch and his troops this season, just as it was in 2015. What makes 2016 different is their league outlook. No longer are the Red Bulls the underdogs, outworking the opposition towards glory. Instead, teams will be gunning for them as they did in 2014.

With that said:

Second place regular season finish in Eastern Conference, MLS Cup winner.

Bonus Prediction:

Red Bulls will advance in CCL … and win the U.S. Open Cup.

  • Anthony

    Prediction – Will be mostly successful on the field but boring while finishing in the top 4 in the East and no one will care. Their fans will still self-loathe something fierce and find things to complain about other than the white elephant in the room…the energy drink gimmick branding scheme. On the plus side they will be better than Man City USA.

    • slowleftarm

      Prediction – Hempstead Cosmos will continue to draw 4k to the lacrosse field and their fans will make wildly absurd statements such as Cosmos are better than MLS teams or Cosmos are a global brand known even by this guy in Sweden and someone’s uncle in Brazil. Then, just like the last two years, Cosmos will crash out of the cup against the first MLS team that takes the competition even a little seriously.

      Meanwhile, RBNY will continue to be one of the best clubs in this country while playing in arguably the finest soccer stadium in the US. All while continue to develop the types of players that are of interest to teams like Chelsea.

      • MTF

        You forgot, New York State will award the Cosmos the bid to build a stadium at Belmont, and the State will say, “Double it.” The Cosmos will break ground on a glorious 50,000 seat stadium. Plans will include an elaborate tarp draping system that will allow them to cover 46,000 seats for Cosmos matches but provide the flexibility for selling out Billy Joel and One Direction concerts.

  • Tommi

    Hoping for the NYRB to have a strong season but don’t think their roster is strong enough for an MLS Cup or shield this year.

  • Larry\’s Momma

    What a dissapointing opening day crowd.
    Lets retire Brodeur’s jersey. Maybe people will show up in harrison.
    What a shame. A great venue too.

    • EPL fan

      Went to the game. Poor crowd. Poor atmosphere. Poor level of play. Poor concessions. Poor result.