The Red Bulls have nowhere to go but up, but the pressure is still on.The Red Bulls stand on the brink of the most important season in their history. The results of last season again would not just be an embarrassing year, they would be disastrous. An advertising blitz and Saturday’s opening against Santos went a long way towards building excitement in the New York Metro Area, but if they want to consistently fill the top stadium in the country they must keep winning.
With that in mind, the corporate overlords in Austria have imported a new Scandinavian backroom staff and lots of new players to go along with some exciting draft picks. The new blood, combined with that shiny new 25,189 seater mecca to MLS fans, has created high hopes after an undefeated preseason.
Last season was a particularly bad one for the Red Bulls. Five wins, six draws and a healthy nineteen losses speak for themselves. They were terrible, the summer road schedule was terrible, and the dry artificial turf in a nearly-empty Giants Stadium did not help.
A complete rebuilding requires a lot of guys to go. The Red Bulls said goodbye to minor contributors Ernst Oebster, Walter Garcia, Leo Krupnik and Matthew Mbuta. They also released right back Carlos Johnson after he never lived up to his potential. Fan favorite Danny Cepero lost out in the fight to keep his spot and Albert Celades retired. Oh, and Jorge Rojas is gone. No more hopeless 40-yard shots.
Where to start? Hans Backe has been brought in to coach the players and to break the euro-coach failure stereotype. He is joined by new General Manager Erik Soler.
In the Superdraft the Red Bulls selected Generation Adidas midfielders Tony Tchani and Austin da Luz. They also picked up a stellar central defender in Tim Ream, along with midfielder Irving Garcia, and nationally ranked forward Conor Chinn.
By way of league acquisitions, New York added three veterans. Welsh center-mid Carl Robinson looks to go straight into the starting line-up, while Greg Sutton will put pressure on Bouna Coundoul in goal. The Red Bulls opted to take a chance on right back Chris Albright to see if he can recover from a long-term injury problems.
Finally, the new management also pressed their connections in Scandinavia to pick up some solid contributors. 25-year-old Costa Rican Roy Miller returns to the Americas after several seasons in the Scandinavian leagues. He was followed by Estonian midfielder Joel Lindpere from Tromso, in Norway. And only this week, the team announced the signing of target forward Ibrahim Salou.
Bouna Coundoul – GK – It should be a close race between Bouna and Greg Sutton, but as of right now, and based on his acrobatics versus Santos on Saturday, Bouna has the edge. Don’t be surprised if they trade places during the season, however.
Jeremy Hall – RB – Poor Jeremy Hall is stuck in the right back slot until somebody proves they can do a better job than him. If Chris Albright can bring back the old days, it may finally give Hall the chance to prove himself on the wing.
Mike Petke – CB – The solid old center back has provided much needed veteran leadership for the Red Bulls this preseason. Perhaps more importantly, he has formed a solid partnership with Tim Ream.
Tim Ream – CB – Hans Backe and Ritchie Williams appear to have found a diamond in the rough in Ream. He has had a great preseason, and he may be the most game-ready rookie in the league. His ability to read the game and spray the ball around has earned him rave reviews from the new Head Coach.
Roy Miller – LB – New Costa Rican signing Roy Miller is capable of playing the in the center of defense or on the left wing, but Backe seems to like him as an attacking fullback. Look for him to find his way into the offense, especially if the left midfielder in front of him isn’t in their natural position.
Dane Richards – RM – The speedy little Jamaican has a tendency to fade in and out of form, but when he is playing well, he has the potential to light up any defense in the league.
Carl Robinson – CM – The Red Bulls finally landed Robinson after a year-long pursuit. Don’t expect him to sit in front of the back four either. Hans Backe has already said he doesn’t like defensive midfielders and he expects his center mids to contribute at both ends of the field.
Joel Lindpere – CM – A natural left winger, Lindpere has shown he is more than capable of playing in the center of the park. For now, the Red Bulls need a playmaker in center midfield more than they need a left winger.
Austin da Luz – LM – da Luz is the only natural left midfielder left, but Backe may opt for a veteran at this position. At this point, the Red Bulls need someone to force their way into the line-up at another position so that either Lindpere (Tchani at center-mid), Hall (Chris Albright or Luke Sassano at right back), Miller (Kevin Goldthwaite at left back), or Kandji (any of the other strikers) can fill this position.
Macoumba Kandji – FW – With Kandji’s skills, size and strength, he only needs to remain healthy to have a break-out season. With all the strikers waiting on the bench, the pressure on him will be high this year to produce.
Juan Pablo Angel – FW – If the captain is fit, he starts. He is one of the best forwards in league history, if not the best.
Best of the Rest:
Kevin Goldthwaite is still recovering from adductor surgery. If he can fight his way back into the line-up it would provide the Red Bulls valuable depth in the back.
The Red Bulls took Tony Tchani with the second pick overall in the MLS Superdraft after an impressive combine. While he may not start right away, they have to be hoping he will be a solid contributor as the season progresses.
Ghanaian Ibrahim Salou was only signed this week after an impressive trial match versus Santos. While he created chances, he looked a little wild, and probably should have been sent off. If he relaxes and doesn’t try to do everything himself he will push Kandji for the starting role.
Red Bull Arena. How many people are attending matches at Red Bull Arena? Are the Red Bulls playing well enough for Red Bull Arena? What are these PATH trains to Red Bull Arena? Is Red Bull Arena the greatest thing that has ever happened? Etc.
And there will be a lot of talk about Thierry Henry, or any other star who might want to come to America after the World Cup. The Red Bulls hold two Designated Player spots and Don Garber has alluded to a potential additional spot for each team. Unless they sell out Red Bull Arena every game, they will try to make a move at some point.
The Red Bulls will greatly improve over last season. If they can overcome another tough summer schedule and keep their key players from being injured, they will probably squeak into the last playoff spot.
Did You Know?
The Red Bulls have nine players in their first MLS season.
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