The 2017 MLS season is still a few weeks away, but for the New York Red Bulls, it begins tonight. For the first time in club history, the team is participating in the knockout stage of the CONCACAF Champions League. The historic match is their first true test of the New Year, but is the team ready?
“They’re not all totally fit and they’re not all totally sharp. So I know it won’t be our best match that we’ve ever played,” head coach Jesse Marsch stated at media day. “The benefit we have — and if you ask Vancouver, I think they’d say in the same boat — and the fact that we play each other means that we’re on an even playing field. And after two games, we’ll see who’s able to gain an edge.”
For 2017, the Red Bulls are without their former captain, Dax McCarty. Filling his spot on the field is far from the only question mark surrounding this club. The season will hinge on many things, but the answers to these three questions will play an important part.
Three Questions for the 2017 New York Red Bulls Season
Is Sean Davis Ready For Prime Time?
Sean Davis starts his third season as a pro with lofty expectations placed on his young shoulders. The aforementioned Dax McCarty leaves a sizable hole in the midfield for NY that won’t be filled strictly by Davis. Davis is not a carbon copy destroyer a la McCarty, but instead much more of a box-to-box player. He has shown that he has the ability to play a big role in the midfield, but has not had to marshal the position for a full season at the highest American level.
To his credit, Davis has a very good head on his shoulders and reads the game quite well. Whether the expectations on his performance are fair or not, the Red Bulls season may largely hinge on how adapts to the starting role. Speaking at media day, Sean kept things level and in perspective.
“I don’t actually [feel added pressure] because I don’t think my job is to replace Dax,” Davis mentioned. “We’re not the same player. I admire Dax so much because he’s helped me grow so much over the past two seasons. I’m just looking to step into this team like I did last season during that stretch of games where I was able to contribute on both sides of the ball. That’s my mindset heading into this season, trying to contribute to the team as much as possible, not to overthink things. Take training one game at a time, and take each game one at a time.”
Sacha Kljestan may have taken over the role of captain, but it is clear to see Davis has the mindset to one day fill the role. For now though, he must show that his playing time is justified. Furthermore, he must make Red Bulls fans forget about their former captain.
Can The 4-2-2-2 Work Long Term?
At the start of last season, the Red Bulls vocalized a need for a ‘plan B’. During the preseason, they put the pieces in place to change their formation and style. Fast forward to Gonzalo Veron’s early season injury, and some very poor results, the new look formation was jettisoned in favor of the tried and true. This year, with some roster changes, the Red Bulls look to be bringing back the two-striker formation. While most of preseason showed some flaws in the system, the first team didn’t play together much in that stretch.
When they finally played together, fans saw some very promising signs. Despite playing a weakened NYCFC team, the Red Bulls dominated the game in both possession and chances created. Two goals scored against NYC is a testament to the team’s lack of sharpness rather than a lack of creation. The question remains: can NY play with this formation and be successful?
The answer comes down to personnel. If Gonzalo Veron can remain healthy, the Red Bulls attack can be very dangerous. The problem is depth behind the two main strikers. Brandon Allen is not ready for much more than cameo appearances this season, and Derrick Etienne, while very skilled, is more suited for a wide role than as a support striker. While the formation can be viewed as a ‘plan B’, it is still the victim of a single point of failure. An addition (or two) in the summer or the emergence of Allen or Etienne as a major force will go a long way to soothing those concerns.
Will The Red Bulls Win MLS Cup?
For years now, the RBNY fan base has wondered this question at the beginning of every season. The drought years have been particularly hard on the franchise’s admirers, despite winning a pair of Supporters’ Shields. The importance of those trophies in the minds of fans varies greatly, an MLS Cup championship does not. The inferiority complex of Red Bull fans would surely be satiated with such a prize, and it sends a clear message to their rival neighbors in blue.
Is the roster, as it stands, ready to challenge for such a prize? It is hard to say. The youth movement within the organization continues to flourish, but the success of the project will be reliant on the dividends. The contribution of young players, as a necessity to success, is foreign within the Red Bulls history. The leadership has steered the direction of the club towards these seas, and their failing would diminish the project they started. If the success of NYRBII can be translated to the senior team, MLS teams will have plenty to admire for years to come.
Omer Damari, Karl Ouimette, Ronald Zubar, Kyle Reynish, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Chris Duvall, Dax McCarty
- RBNY finishes top 3 in the East, loses to Columbus in the playoffs.
- Bradley Wright-Phillips and Gonzalo Veron combine for 20+ goals and 10+ assists.
- Tyler Adams and Derrick Etienne force themselves into the starting XI for a stretch this summer.