The consternation surrounding the New York Red Bulls following the 2019 season are most palpable following the teams 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Union last weekend.
The loss itself perfectly sums up the season as a whole. Crushing defeats from winning positions in knockout tournaments bookend the season, and fans remain locked in perpetual heartbreak. Sweeping changes seemed likely Sunday night following their loss to the Union, but now, days later, it seems that the the Red Bulls will retain current leadership.
The decision itself carries its own repercussions from the vocal contingent on social media, though hanging the entirety of the Red Bulls difficult season on any one person feels short sighted. To pick apart the issues within the team, it is necessary to examine the roster, and determine the biggest question marks heading into the offseason.
Here’s a list of the biggest issues the Red Bulls must address ahead of the 2020 season:
All three categories remain true from the team’s needs heading into the 2019 season. But there is a bit more hope that the Red Bulls, with a more robust technical staff, will be able to address these concerns heading into 2020. First and foremost, defensive depth.
Last season, the Red Bulls locked Aaron Long and Tim Parker into bigger contracts. The Red Bulls also extended Kemar Lawrence’s contract during the 2018 season. As the backline felt like a given heading into 2019, the opposite is true heading into 2020. Additions like Amro Tarek helped, but failing to address wingback depth kept the Red Bulls suspect defensively, and strained the backline for large portions of the season.
Thankfully, Kyle Duncan showed well before his season ending injury at Montreal. There is a glimmer of hope that he returns to the lineup to start 2020. Rece Buckmaster’s inclussion garnered mixed results, and ultimately shows that he is a depth option, but not an everyday starter. Finding depth at wingback has to be a priority, especially with Michael Amir Murillo’s imminent departure. Can the Red Bulls find a player more reliable than Buckmaster at a similar salary?
It is also important to note Aaron Long’s wandering eyes. Long might also seek a deal outside of MLS during the transfer window. As such, Amro Tarek could step into a starting role, but that leaves centerback depth a concern. Sean Nealis is a player still developing, and looked stronger by season’s end with NYRBII. Finding another centerback that can push for third on the depth chart should also be a priority.
Finding a midfield general
The biggest hole in the Red Bulls roster in 2019 sat right above the defensive line. Tyler Adams absence left the Red Bulls system in shambles. Adams ability to cover ground and add bite to the midfield helped cover over systemic issues that Sean Davis could not. Davis is a fine midfielder, but showed yet again that he is more suited for a role further up the field.
Marc Rzatkowski also struggles when deployed as a pure defensive midfielder. Cristian Casseres Jr. is much closer to the type of player the Red Bulls need in the role, but is still more of a box to box midfielder than a defensive juggernaut required of the high press.
For the Red Bulls to rebound from last season, they either need to change the type of player plugged into the defensive role, or change the formation they deploy and the roles of the players within. While the former seems like an easier task, they may choose to change their formation. There are already clues in place that they may move to a two striker formation, and therefore, two box to box midfielders playing in a deeper position makes more sense.
If they continue with their current formation, then they need to find some new blood. The player must have a good mind for positioning and the ability to cover when players venture forward into attack. They also need to be able to read the game well to win second balls, and be able to spring the attack from a deep position. While this keeps the current setup in place, it may be harder to find the right player for the role.
Wingers and strikers
Danny Royer is a year older. Derrick Etienne Jr. is likely out, the same is true for Josh Sims. Andreas Ivan and Marcus Epps departed midseason. That leaves the wings rather desolate.
Omir Fernandez, Alex Muyl and a returning Florian Valot are options out wide. A change in formation makes Kaku a viable option out wide should he return in 2020, depending on the extent of his injury. Another candidate is Jared Stroud, the New York Red Bulls II all-time leading assist man. Signing another NYRBII player to a vital position is frowned upon by a growing number of fans, but Stroud fits the bill for an MLS depth spot.
Up top, there are currently three to four players capable of taking the reigns. Brian White is the obvious choice. His contributions in 2019 far exceeded expectations, and is currently the starter come opening day should the current crop of strikers remain. Tom Barlow showed flashes, but still lacks the polish needed to be an everyday starter. The same is true for Mathias Jørgensen. Bradley Wright-Phillips returning seems remote, but his resume within the Red Bulls gives him a glimmer of hope.
In both spots, the most likely solution is the transfer market. While the solution may not come cheap in either spot, the need to venture beyond the players currently on the MLS/USL squad is necessary. Even if the Red Bulls change formation in 2020, having a more experienced striker to pair up top with Brian White is a smart move. Perhaps we see player integration of Red Bull-satellite clubs whether in Brazil, Austria, or Germany. All of that could depend on the outcome of the CBA negotiations, and could shape how RB Global decide to utilize their big apple asset.
Photo by Bill Twomey Photography