2017 Red Bull New York’s New Year Resolutions

In what can only be described as a successful year, Red Bull New York achieved numerous goals in 2016. Coming off their second Supporter’s Shield the previous campaign, RBNY overcame a horrendous 1-6 start to capture their second straight Eastern Conference regular season title on the strength of a 20-match unbeaten streak. However, despite those achievements, they once again disappointed in the playoffs by crashing out in the conference semifinals; a step back from 2015. Here’s what they need to do in the new year to take two-steps forward.

In addition to their domestic league exploits, the Red Bulls also found success on the international level. 2016 marked the first time the organization ever advanced to the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Champions League (CCL). As such, 2017 will afford them the opportunity to take on the best clubs in North and Central America for the right to play in the Club World Cup. They’ll get their opportunity almost immediately as they begin their home-and-home clash against the Vancouver Whitecaps on February 22nd at Red Bull Arena.

Only eight teams remain in the CCL, three of whom come from MLS. Manager Jesse Marsch and his squad must seize the opportunity laid out before them. Though it will be very difficult to get past the three Mexican clubs in the competition, the Red Bulls can send a message to MLS, one that shows that they’re better in the playoff format than history indicates. The matchup against Vancouver is eminently winnable and should expectations should be such. Beyond that, the second round matchup will be against one of the Mexican sides; either Pumas or Tigres, the winners of last week’s Mexican championship. However, anything short of the semifinals should be considered a disappointment.

With CCL approaching and the league starting not long after, sporting director Ali Curtis will need to make adjustments to his roster beforehand. After experiencing the streakiness of last year’s club, RBNY should address their lack of secondary scoring. While Bradley Wright-Phillips won his second Golden Boot, he was prone to bouts of inconsistency which led to team scoring deficiencies. While Austrian winger Daniel Royer was brought on during the season – and there was evidence that he may be part of the answer – it would behoove the club to seek a second striker that can come off the bench and make starts alongside BWP at times.

The 2016 preseason gave a glimpse of a two-striker tandem between BWP and Gonzalo Veron, but an injury to the latter prevented that formation from ever having a long stretch of games. Additionally, in his first full season in MLS, Veron, a designated-player, never seemed to find his rythm and remains a disappointing signing. Rookie winger Alex Muyl, the surprise success story of 2016 shouldn’t be counted on to provide scoring in the new year. The lack of secondary scoring has left Sacha Kljestan with only one consistent target. It’s time to get the record-setting setup man a second one.

One area of the roster that proved consistent last year was the defense. It seemed like every defender at some point suffered an injury that required time off – both Gideon Baah and Connor Lade suffered season ending leg injuries. Curtis deserves immense credit as there was always another defender that filled in effectively. Something needs to be done to ensure that type of redundancy in the new year.

After being brought in halfway through the season, Aurelien Collin proved to be RBNY’s most consistent and important defender. Chris Duvall became one of the great values in MLS by virtue of his inexpensive contract and ability to play multiple positions. When Ronald Zubar was healthy, he was an integral part in the center. Unfortunately those three are not currently on the roster – though it’s possible either Collin and/or Zubar re-sign. RBNY must add to their defensive depth chart.

As it stands, the four man defensive formation likely consists of Kemar Lawrence and Connor Lade on the outside with Damien Perrinelle and Gideon Baah in the center. The first reservist is likely the inexperienced Justin Bilyeu. Curtis must bring back either Collin or Zubar, and needs to add interchangeable role players to alleviate the pressure from Bilyeu and Sal Zizzo on the bench. If not, Luis Robles is going to have a long year in goal.

If the last four years have proven anything for the Red Bulls it’s that regular season success does not guarantee postseason success. Despite winning two Supporter’s Shields, three Eastern Conference titles, and a record-setting winning streak, the club didn’t make it to a single MLS Cup in that time. Perhaps this year the Red Bulls won’t put as much emphasis on the regular-season and rotate more players to keep them fresh for the playoffs. As evidenced by the 2016 playoffs, regular season rankings don’t mean much once the temperature drops. Perhaps 2017 is the year RBNY takes the final step and hoists the MLS Cup trophy for the first time in their 22-year history.