The exit in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs was a fitting end to the New York Red Bulls season last year. A team that looked uninspired in the majority of their matches went into the off-season with a lot of questions, and while some of them were answered, many still remain.
The organization that has enjoyed a lot of recent success enters the season with uncertainty and in reality without much of a plan. The departures of Bradley Wright-Phillips, Luis Robles, Kemar Lawrence, and Michael Murillo have left positions with big shoes to fill. While NYRBII continues to promote players to the senior squad, with the likes of Jared Stroud, John Tolkin, and Chris Lema joining the first team, is it enough? The only major signing RBNY have made so far was bringing back Josh Sims on loan. There’s many questions facing the team this year namely:
Do they lack depth in the midfield?
Replacing what Tyler Adams did in 2018 was always going to be a challenge for the team last year and to their credit they tried their best to. A lot of expectation was heaped upon Cristian Casseres Jr. in his first full year with the senior team and while the midfielder had his struggles, there were signs of growth towards the end of the season.
However, he is the only true ball winner in the midfield and the organization did not bring in someone for depth. Casseres could take a big step forward this year, but if he struggles with form or injury what will be the team team’s back-up plan? The Sean Davis-Marc Rzatkowski pairing wasn’t effective enough last year and relying on them for long stretches this season will not work. Chris Lema was signed from NYRB II this off season but he would play more of a playmaking role than a ball winner. While the organization addressed other areas in the off-season this is one area they failed to and it could make or break their season.
How much will the departures of Kemar Lawrence and Michael Murillo hurt?
There’s no doubt that both Lawrence and Murillo were instrumental in the team’s 2018 success, but last year the inconsistencies in their play hurt this team. The organization felt it was time to move on from both of them, but do they have the quality to replace both defenders?
Kyle Duncan struggled early in the season, but had supplanted Murillo in the starting lineup by the end of the season and was one of the team’s most improved players. The team brought in Mandela Egbo from SV Darmstadt 98 who could give Duncan some competition and Rece Buckmaster will be back for added depth as well.
The organization even addressed the position in the MLS SuperDraft by trading up to select Patrick Seagrist who has reportedly has impressed the coaching staff in the preseason. One other youngster that could make an impact is John Tolkien who earned a homegrown contract after an impressive season with NYRB II last year. Both players are young and inexperienced at the MLS level, but given the lack of options for the team, they may be called into action right away.
Will they get enough production from their forwards?
Last year, two players contributed heavily to RBNY’s goal scoring, Daniel Royer and Brian White. The two forwards scored 20 goals combined between the two of them nearly half of the team’s total. White’s impact was huge in particular, playing in his first full season with the first team after making the jump from NYRB II. However, injuries forced the forward to miss time and the squad suffered down the stretch. If continues to improve his play from last season, he could be in for a big year.
If White were to miss time again are the options off the bench good enough to contribute? Tom Barlow showed flashes of his potential after White’s injury. It’s possible he could make the same jump White did last year with a full season. Is Mathias Jorgensen ready after a spending a year with NYRB II? Jorgensen had his ups and downs with the reserve team last year, but showed that the potential is there.
The team could also get help elsewhere in the goals department as well. Florian Valot continues to impress in preseason after another knee injury ended his season early last year. Kaku will continue to be the catalyst for the team going forward. Josh Sims is back on loan after an impressive stint with the team. Alex Muyl does a little of everything, Jared Stroud dominated the USL Championship and adds depth. Perhaps the biggest question is will Omir Fernandez see more starts this year? Whenever the former Wake Forest midfielder played last season he made a big impact. With so many options, it’s up to RBNY manager Chris Armas to find him playing time.
Photo by Bill Twomey Photography