The New York Red Bulls put together one of the best seasons in Major League Soccer history in 2018, setting a new league record for points on the way to a third Supporters' Shield in six seasons, while also making an impressive run to the Concacaf Champions League semifinals.
Despite that strong campaign, there was still a palpable sense of disappointment surrounding the team because of its failed bid to win the club's first MLS Cup title. The playoff loss to Atlanta United wasn't quite as devastating as some past playoff disappointments, but there was still a sense that the Red Bulls could have gone further, a sentiment that also lingered after their Champions League semifinal exit.
Chris Armas took over as head coach midway through the season, stepping in to replace Jesse Marsch after Marsch moved to Bundesliga side RB Leipzig. The transition to Armas was a smooth one, as the Red Bulls went on to register an MLS-record 71 points. Armas drew some criticism for his tactical decisions during the playoffs, but will now have a full preseason to put his own stamp on a team that will still be consider a top title contender in 2019.
The Red Bulls are no strangers to having to adapt for departing star players, but replacing Tyler Adams is going to be particularly challenging. The U.S. national team midfielder's presence will be sorely missed in the Red Bulls midfield, but Armas has several options to fill the vacant role in central midfield.
The Red Bulls didn't make many additions in the offseason, but the return of Florian Valot, Vincent Bezecourt and Kyle Duncan from long-term injuries will be like adding three new players to an already-deep squad. Valot should compete for a starting role while Bezecourt and Duncan provide depth for a team that will be competing in multiple competitions.
The league's best defense is back intact, with reigning MLS defender of the year Aaron Long leading a back four that allowed the fewest goals in MLS. Tim Parker signed a new contract while Michael Murillo also returns after some previous rumblings about wanting to leave MLS.
Consistent attacking production will be the leading challenge for the Red Bulls, with star striker Bradley Wright-Phillips and playmaker Kaku tasked with generating enough offense to keep up with fellow East power. Newly-acquired Danish striker Mathias Jorgensen should provide needed depth at striker, and will give Armas more tactical options.
How did the Red Bulls perform in 2018?
2017 finish: 6th in Eastern Conference (22-7-5), lost to Atlanta United in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Red Bulls were dominant during the regular season, riding a league-best 14 home wins to secure the best single-season points total in MLS history. Led by a stingy defense and the goal-scoring exploits of Wright-Phillips, the Red Bulls stayed consistent, even through a midseason coaching change.
Tim Parker's arrival at the start of the season helped turn the Red Bulls back-line into the best in MLS, and helped them reach the Concacaf Champions League semifinals, where they lost a close series to eventual champion Chivas Guadalajara. Kaku's arrival helped give the Red Bulls the playmaker they needed, though the Red Bulls attack slowed down in the playoffs.
Red Bulls' key offseason losses
A move to Europe was inevitable for the dynamic Tyler Adams, and replacing him isn't going to be easy. Armas will turn to a committee of options, including veteran Marc Rzatkowski. Replacing Adams' work rate won't be easy, but Rzatkowski showed well in 2018, and has the familarity with the high-pressing system to slide into the deep-lying midfield role next to Sean Davis.
Felipe Escobar was an underrated depth option along the back-line, but he has returned to Panama, while Aurelien Collin was also let go, and has resurfaced with the Philadelphia Union. One painful loss was Hassan Ndam, a young defender with a bright future who was scooped up by FC Cincinnati in the expansion draft.
Red Bulls' key offseason additions
The $2 million transfer acquisition of Mathias Jorgensen was the biggest signing of the winter for the Red Bulls, and the 18-year-old Danish forward is expected to contribute in year one.
“We feel like he, as a striker, has some dynamic tools that we feel can help us right off the bat,” Red Bulls sporting director Denis Hamlett said. “His ability to stretch the defense, he has some clever movements up front and he’s someone who is a team player and his willingness to play for the team we think will be a good fit for us.”
Homegrown player signing Omir Fernandez is one young player to keep tabs on. The skilled winger starred at Wake Forest for two seasons and should challenge for playing time as a rookie after impressing in preseason.
Former Philadelphia Union midfielder Marcus Epps was acquired this winter and will also challenge for minutes on the flanks, with his speed giving the Red Bulls a different option on the wing.
The Red Bulls added some much-needed left back depth by picking up Amro Tarek from Orlando City. The Egyptian defender made 19 starts for the Lions in 2019 and offers some depth behind Best XI left back Kemar Lawrence.
Full Red Bulls roster entering 2019 season
Goalkeepers: Luis Robles, Ryan Meara, Evan Louro
Defenders: Kyle Duncan, Connor Lade, Kemar Lawrence, Aaron Long, Michael Murillo, Tim Parker, Amro Tarek
Midfielders: Vincent Bezecourt, Cristian Casseres Jr., Sean Davis, Marcus Epps, Derrick Etienne, Jr., Omir Fernandez, Jean-Christophe Koffi, Andreas Ivan, Ben Mines, Alex Muyl, Alejandro Romero Gamarra, Daniel Royer, Marc Rzatkowski, Florian Valot
Forwards: Anatole Abang, Mathias Jorgensen, Brian White, Bradley Wright-Phillips
Red Bulls projected starting lineup
The Red Bulls bring back 10 of 11 regular starters from the squad that set a new MLS record for points, with Rzatkowski the leading candidate to fill the starting spot vacated by Tyler Adams. There is serious competition for Muyl's starting spot, with Florian Valot the leading candidate to take the job from Muyl.
The back four returns intact, and a year of experience playing as a unit should help make the Red Bulls defense even tougher to deal with. Adams' departure will hurt, but the Red Bulls delivered one of their best performances of the season without Adams, in a 2-0 win against Atlanta United, a victory that saw Rzatkowski shine in central midfield.
Jorgensen's arrival will give Armas the option to consider occasionally deploying with a two-forward system at times. Wright-Phillips has spent most of his Red Bulls career as a lone striker, but Jorgensen's arrival should help lighten his load, and give the Red Bulls some different looks, particularly late in matches.
Kaku appears set to stay with the Red Bulls after reported interest from Liga MX champions Club America, and the Paraguayan playmaker will look to regain the top form he enjoyed in the first half of 2018. His production dipped in the second half of last season, but he should benefit of having a full preseason with the Red Bulls this year after joining the team late in the 2018 preseason.
Red Bulls national TV coverage
- Columbus Crew vs. New York Red Bulls - Saturday, March 16, at 3:30 p.m. ET on Univision
- Sporting Kansas City vs. New York Red Bulls - Sunday, April 14, at 7 p.m. ET on FS1
- New York Red Bulls vs. LA Galaxy - Saturday, May 4, at 2 pm. ET on ESPN
- FC Dallas vs. New York Red Bulls - Saturday, May 11, at 2 p.m. ET on Univision
- New York Red Bulls vs. Atlanta United - Sunday, May 19, at 5 .m. ET on FS1
- New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire - Friday, June 28, at 8 p.m. ET on UniMas
- Atlanta United vs. New York Red Bulls - Sunday, July 7, at 2 p.m. ET on FOX
- New York Red Bulls vs. New York City FC - Sunday, July 14, at 6:30 p.m. ET on FS1
- Orlando City vs. New York Red Bulls - Sunday, July 21, at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1
- Los Angeles FC vs. New York Red Bulls - Sunday, August 11, 10 p.m. ET on FS1
- D.C. United vs. New York Red Bulls - Wednesday, August 21, 7 p.m. ET on UniMas
- New York City FC vs. New York Red Bulls - Saturday, August 24, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2
- Seattle Sounders vs. New York Red Bulls - Sunday, September 14, 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN