High hopes were dashed on Thursday evening in Harrison. Despite setting all-time records for points (71) and wins (22) in a league season, the New York Red Bulls’ quest for their first MLS Cup title fell short at the hands of Atlanta United. Besides the obvious frustration of fans seeing their club once again unable to advance in the postseason, the accomplishments of 2018 also feel fleeting as the view of hindsight rolls in.
The asterisk that unfortunately came with 2018 for New York Red Bulls
There was plenty of optimism heading into the campaign, but new milestones throughout the regular season may not necessarily have been expected. With a stable of promising homegrown talent and smart offseason additions to the team, New York put together a plan and a formula for success that was built for the long haul.
Taking down the record points total from Toronto FC is impressive on its own, along with the consistency required in any season to capture a Supporters’ Shield title. Manager Jesse Marsch had lifted one three years earlier, and a club must be able to claim depth and tactics as key strengths.
What made 2018’s Shield even more remarkable was everything happening around the squad as they pushed forward.
Marsch departed for Germany in July, as assistant Chris Armas took on the role of head coach. Before that, a deep run to the semifinals of the Concacaf Champions League was able to be navigated without sacrificing league results. One only has to look at Toronto’s year to understand how difficult that balance can be to obtain.
But with those records now comes an asterisk next to a superb season. Ultimately, Armas’ changing of the team’s high-press identity dug a deep hole in the first game of the conference finals in Atlanta. His counterpart Tata Martino had his side prepared for the battle, and they did well to see out an aggregate victory in the second leg. Would Marsch have done things differently and perhaps changed the outcome? Impossible to truly know of course, but he was also unable to guide the Red Bulls past this stage in three attempts.
Playoff matches, whether in MLS or any other sport, cry out for individuals to rise to the occasion. LeBron James of the NBA would be an excellent example, as someone who had been able to single-handedly will his side to a championship.
For the Red Bulls, the team was the star in 2018, and that was seen in their Supporters’ Shield triumph. The club’s tactics of using a high-press and quick passing could thrive even with different players rotating in and out of the lineup.
— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) November 30, 2018
In the postseason versus Atlanta, fans unfortunately did not see someone grab the fate of the series and push the franchise towards their first league trophy. Where New York goes from here will be interesting, as the winter always brings various modifications for the roster. Ahead of 2018, more than 15 players were signed, along with more than 15 going in the other direction also.
Chris Armas and sporting director Denis Hamlett will work to find ways to improve the lineup and build for the future. The New York Red Bulls have plenty to be proud of in 2018, although there will be a blemish next to their stellar achievements.
Photo by Bill Twomey Photography