With one of their worst seasons in franchise history nearly behind them, Goal.com's Terence Steed takes a look at the year that was in the Big Apple.By Terence Steed
To put it simply, this was a season to forget for the New York Red Bulls. Almost breaking the record for worst season in MLS history, the Red Bulls were in the MLS Cup Final a year ago and knocked off the two-time defending champs in the Western Conference Finals. So what happened? Plenty.
What Happened This Season?
What didn’t go wrong this season? First, the expectations created by the improbable run to the MLS Cup Finals put too much pressure on the team. Next, the Red Bulls transfer policy of favoring untested foreign players over MLS players backfired. Finally, they opened the season against one of the best expansion franchise in league history. That humiliating loss in front of Seattle’s rabid fans set the tone for the season.
Injuries and suspensions never help and the Red Bulls had plenty. Juan Pablo Angel missed a series of games with injuries and this team is completely ineffective without their captain. New Costa Rican signing Carlos Johnson received three red cards. On top of that, his ankle injury kept him out for most of the summer months. This forced Jeremy Hall (leading scorer for the national champions at left midfield) to start at right back for most of the season.
The team sorely missed a strong center midfield paring and lacked coherent leadership in the back. Nobody every stepped up to break up plays in midfield and this left the defense dealing with wave after wave of attacks. For a shaky, thrown-together defense, that led to costly mistakes and gift-wrapped goals.
Additionally, the mid-season signings had no impact whatsoever on a team in desperate need of new blood. Walter Garcia, Bouna Coundoul, Leo Krupnik, and Ernst Oebster have seen limited minutes and have not provided upgrades over their predecessors.
The last questionable mistake the Red Bulls made was to allow Juan Carlos Osorio the chance to redeem himself in the Champions League. Playing in the Champions League with the potential of midweek knock-out games in their new stadium next season was the last chance the Red Bulls had to salvage anything from this season. It was painfully obvious that the disjointed team was not responding to anything Osorio tried and if the front office had acted decisively, Ritchie Williams might have guided them past W Connection.
What Went Right?
Not much. The highlight of the Red Bulls season was avoiding the worst season in MLS history. After that, it’s been about getting through a horrible season and hoping they haven’t lost too many potential season ticket sales for the new arena.
What Should The Team Do Differently?
The Red Bulls must find center midfielders who can control MLS games. Albert Celades plays much better with a strong man behind him and clearly struggles with defensive duties. Seth Stammler showed that he could possibly be that guy, but he is not going to outplay most MLS midfielders. Luke Sassano and Sinisa Ubiparipovic are good for their salary ($35K), but are not starters.
The current team is built around a counter-attack strategy that often lacks the accurate passes needed to succeed. With the deadly finishing of Juan Pablo Angel this team should be focused on finding accurate crossers of the ball.
Without Dave van den Bergh that job fell to Jorge Rojas and Dane Richards, whose crosses often end in throw-ins. On the left, Jorge Rojas clearly believes he has a better chance scoring from forty yards out than passing the ball to Juan Pablo Angel. On the right, assists and goals come in quick succession for Dane Richards, but this streaky player’s positive impacts are usually followed by lengthy spells where he disappears for games at a time.
What Changes Will Be Made?
The first thing to remember about the Red Bulls is that they are about to become a two designated player team. Unless the salary cap is greatly increased they must lose some of their higher salaries. Fortunately, they have four picks in the first two rounds of the Superdraft (Oduro and Magee trades). That’s four players (Ike Opara?) who won’t count against the salary cap. If the incoming class is on par with recent years, they should be reliable back-ups challenging for a spot. Those second round draft picks might be traded for cheap, proven MLS talent or another first round pick. The Red Bulls should trade the third and fourth round picks or draft European bound players.
The Red Bulls need to focus and on using their second designated player spot to find the most complete center midfielder available to them. A big name would be nice, but a ball-winner with a lot of fight will win them more games and that is what they need most to sell tickets. Dream signing: Stephen Appiah.
Who should stay? Danny Cepero, Bouna Coundoul, Jeremy Hall, Carlos Johnson, Danleigh Borman, Kevin Goldthwaite, Andrew Boyens, Nick Zimmerman, Dane Richards, Ernst Oebster, Seth Stammler, Mac Kandji, and Juan Pablo Angel. Luke Sassano, Sinisa Ubiparipovic will stay mostly because of their versatility in a pinch and their low salaries ($35K). New academy signing Giorgi Chirgadze will also be around next season.
Of that group, who should be on the trading block? Dane Richards, Seth Stammler, and Bouna Coundoul. These guys are all solid MLS players and if another team is willing to make a trade the salary offset could help the Red Bulls. Also, look for Carlos Mendes and Mike Petke to be offered to teams this winter.
Unknown Quantities? There is not much to say about Walter Garcia and Leo Krupnik. Garcia hasn’t played a minute and Krupnik has barely seen the field. Despite their pedigree (Catania & Maccabi Haifa), if they are match fit and can’t break the current starting lineup they should be released.
Who should go? The only person who really deserves to be thrown off this team is Jorge Rojas. Albert Celades, Carlos Mendes, John Wolyniec and Mike Petke are all in their thirties and take home relatively high salaries for this league. Matthew Mbuta will have to fight the drafted players in February for his spot.
What Will Happen Next Season?
A new stadium and some new faces will lift the Red Bulls off the bottom of the league. They are clearly in a rebuilding process so no one expects them to take the league by storm, but they must improve. They will probably be very inconsistent as new players try to mesh into the squad.
This club is facing the biggest personnel decisions of its short existence. They should officially name Ritchie Williams as Head Coach, not just for stability, but because he deserves it. However, since they haven’t done that yet, they are probably waiting to see who becomes available in the next few months (Carlos Queiroz). They only need to attract one big name player, so a big name coach would probably bring more problems than help.
They also need to sign a second designated player who can make an immediate impact. This team isn’t as bad as they looked this season. If they can add one player at center midfield who can control the game and organize the rest of the team they will greatly improve.
Terence Steed covers the New York Red Bulls for Goal.com.
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