Assessing the 2022 New York Red Bulls with 10 games to go

Red Bulls group celebration

It has been a long 24 weeks of Major League Soccer action for the New York Red Bulls. One of the youngest teams in the league, they’ve started the year slowly before finding their groove, only to currently undergo their worst stretch of the season. New York has won only once in its last five league games, conceding 10 goals. Their last game was a boring 0-0 draw at rivals D.C. United in which they mustered just one shot on target. Now, the All-Star break has come at a good time for the team in Harrison.

The group has shown signs of fatigue and lapses in concentration. It’s led to uncharacteristically playing in high-scoring games, ending on both the winning and losing sides. The Red Bulls will now have a full week of rest ahead of a big home game against Orlando City, and it is big. New York will want revenge after losing 5-1 against the Lions in the U.S. Open Cup Semifinal. For now, while the team gets to recharge the batteries, we can take a look at how they’ve looked throughout the season. We evaluate the good, the bad and of course look ahead to the final 10 games remaining.

Gerhard Struber’s Red Bulls are 4th in East at the break

The Good Bits

Luquinhas and Lewis Morgan. The two summer signings this season have been tremendous. Morgan came from Inter Miami and has been the most consistent goal-scoring threat at the club, with 10 goals and three assists. He’s even taken the mantle as the teams’ main penalty taker, converting five from the spot. Tactically, Gerhard Struber has used him as a winger and wing-back, being a threat from both positions. His first-half hat-trick at Toronto FC at the start of the year was his coming out party and while his play has slowed down recently, he’s still one of the first names on the team sheet.

As for Luquinhas, well you can’t really ask for more from a newcomer. After spending some time in Poland with Legia Warszawa, the Brazilian has given the team a much-needed dimension for his dribbling and take-on prowess. He’s second on the team with five goals, behind Morgan, while also tied for the team lead in assists with three. Opposing teams have begun targeting him with hard fouls to “take him out the game”. So far the strategy has brought moderate success but Luquinhas still finds his way to influence games. Both Luquinhas and Morgan are long-term building blocks, both 25 years old and successful signings. One would shudder to think where this team would be without them.

John Tolkin is the teams’ most reliable player. Speaking of where the team would be without such players, enter Tolkin. The now 20-year-old has played the full 90 minutes in all but four MLS regular season games. Much like Sean Davis last year, Tolkin has taken the reputation of Ironman for this season. It’s a testament to his fitness and discipline to be able to be match day fit for every single game, including U.S. Open Cup and international friendlies. This year, Tolkin has grown his game and has two assists to his name, but it’s his defensive capabilities that have caught eyes. He leads the team averaging more interceptions per 90 minutes, while ranking high with successful tackles. John Tolkin is a fan favorite, and is one of the league’s bright young players.

Aaron Long stays healthy and brings goals. Red Bulls fans remember the scene well when their captain went down in Philly last season and ruptured his Achilles’ tendon. Fast forward to present day and Long has looked like his best self. He’s one of the highest scoring centre-backs with four goals to his name, while also making the difference with his clearances and blocks. The goals are a pleasant surprise, as he has timed his jumps on set-pieces to good success. A 2022 MLS All-Star selection and multiple USMNT appearances (yes, he’ll also start a World Cup game too) further emphasizes how good this campaign has been. The former MLS Defender of the Year could also be on course to win Comeback Player of the Year, he’s definitely got a case for the award.

What about The Bad? Well…

The striker situation has been worse than imagined. There have been three strikers that have won the lion share of starting matches: Patryk Klimala, Tom Barlow and Ashley Fletcher. Of the trio, they collectively have eight league goals. Aaron Long has just as many (4) as Klimala and Barlow, Fletcher returned to Watford without a goal or assist in his time. It’s not for a lack of trying from the forwards, but to be this deep into the season and see what’s transpired, it’s a development that doesn’t look to be getting better anytime soon.

Omir Fernandez is ice cold after a great beginning. The Bronx native started his season well that brought memories of his fun stretch during last year. This year, Fernandez has logged more then 1,200 minutes and has just two goals and three assists. What happened? Well, he’s been found alone to initiate counter attacks, which don’t amount to much. He’s often taken one touch too many that eliminates a goal scoring chance. You can tell his confidence is shot and he looks frustrated at himself. An easy kid to root for, but he must elevate his performances or else he’ll be on the bench more often.

Gerhard Struber’s subs and lack of a Plan B. This one has come with varying degrees of success. Struber earned credit for throwing on young Serge Ngoma, who scored the winner in the 2-1 win against Atlanta United. But there are times where his lack of alternative solutions put the team in a bad spot. This summer has seen players be exhausted, and at times lacking ideas to create goal-scoring opportunities. Subbing on Barlow for Klimala has looked desperate, whereas just leaving the Polish man up top would’ve been more fruitful. Yes, the squad is thin in certain departments, but that’s where the manager works his magic to get the most out of his players on match days. Would more players really cure all? Maybe, but luckily we’ll all find out together.

What to Watch For As the Season Winds Down

Will they keep pace to host a playoff game? For this writer, this is the most intriguing. When they’re at their best, the Red Bulls can hang with anyone. We’ve seen it, now with 10 games to go they look to be on course to host a playoff game for the first time since 2018. But their recent form has opened the door for teams below them to catch up. Saturday against Orlando, with a week off, is a big test.

Which of the strikers steps up? From what we’ve all seen so far, this one is being played like a game of hot potato. The Red Bulls’ “A” lineup features Klimala as the main striker, but Barlow has also started in those same circumstances as well. Both have had moments, both have also frustrated. It’s possible Serge Ngoma comes back and equals both Klimala’s and Barlow’s current goal tally, the teenager is just two scores away. It’s also possible this question doesn’t get answered, seriously.

New signings impacting the team. Three signings have been registered, and all of them will likely feature before the end of the regular season. Kyle Duncan returns on loan, he’ll provide cover at both left and right-back. Elias Manoel also arrives on loan from Gremio in Brazil, he’ll serve as either a striker or inverted winger. And last but not least, the newest member, Tyler Pasher joins the club after being claimed off waivers, most recently playing for the Houston Dynamo. Rotation will be key at the conclusion of August. It’ll be interesting to see how Struber uses them all, and the chemistry being developed on the pitch.

The final five games. This stretch starts on the opening week of September, listed in order and it’s a gauntlet. Home to the Philadelphia Union. Home to the New England Revolution. Away to NYCFC. Away to the Columbus Crew. It ends with the final game of the season, home to Charlotte FC. In this mix are teams fighting for the final playoff spots and the Supporters Shield. These five games will be a true test of character, mentality and overall standing in the Eastern Conference. If the Red Bulls want to host a playoff game, they’ll have to earn it the hard way.
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