(Harrison, NJ) – Yet another season of New York Red Bulls‘ soccer has come to a close. As usual, it was filled with plenty of ups and downs, and no shortage of raw emotion. The 2017 campaign had its spectacular moments – the comeback win against FC Cincinnati in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and the 4-0 trouncing of the Chicago Fire in the knockout round of the playoffs. However, if the club and its fans truly want to make progress and bring a cup trophy home, this season must be considered a complete failure.
New York Red Bulls 2017 Season Review
The Red Bulls finished the regular season with a 14-12-8 (W-L-D) record. This was good enough for 50 points, and the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. 2017 goes down as the worst regular season, on paper, in the Jesse Marsch era. After victory in the knockout round, the Red Bulls were eliminated in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by Toronto FC with an aggregate score of 2-2 (TFC advance on away goals).
Many may be hesitant to award “Most Valuable Player” of the squad to an up-and-coming teenager, but the title belongs to Tyler Adams. There is a lot of hype around the youngster, but it is not for naught. Adams was simply sensational this season, no matter the position he was thrown into, or the opposition he faced.
Throughout the year, Adams made key stops against the likes of David Villa, Sebastian Giovinco, Cyle Larin, and many others. At times, he seemed (and probably was) the most mature, intelligent, and athletic player on the field.
What’s more, the homegrown player showed his attacking prowess and gifts on the ball in the attacking third. Adams notched two excellent goals (the first of his career) and four assists this season. His primary contribution to the Metro offense was crosses in from the right wing, which proved to be very consistent in quality.
The bottom line is that RBNY were much better with Adams on the field, and he should get the credit he deserves – he can be their best player.
What Went Wrong in 2017
The most prevalent issue for the Red Bulls squad this season was the occasional lack of consistent goal scoring. New York started the campaign with five goals in their first six games. Two of those five were own goals. The offense, led by Bradley Wright-Phillips, scored just 53 goals this year, the lowest total since 2011 under Hans Backe.
BWP himself netted 17 goals in 2017, tied for his lowest total since entering the league. There were stretches during the year in which the team could not move the ball forward or get significant shots on target. These issues need to be addressed in the off-season.
Additionally, the annual issue of inability to win a trophy was prevalent more than usual this year. Even beyond the regular flunk out of MLS Cup Playoffs, the Red Bulls also failed to come away with the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Fans thought this may be the year the club finally clinched its first ever tournament trophy as they made it all the way to the US Open Cup Final for the first time since 2003. It was not to be, of course, and Jesse Marsch’s men fell to Sporting Kansas City in the final, as well as Toronto FC in the playoffs.
Each year, the goal is the same for this team – win MLS Cup. There is no other more central desire. Yet, another season has gone by without a cup title. This culture of failure within the club needs to be solved for it to finally take the next level. Fans are desperate, and the club needs to look for solutions because what they came up with this season has gotten them no farther than ever before.
What Went Right in 2017
If there is one thing that the Red Bulls organization got right in 2017 it is the incorporation of the academy and New York Red Bulls II prospects. Some of the most important players in this year’s squad have gone through the Red Bulls Academy or played for the NYRB II in the USL.
Aaron Long, Tyler Adams, Derrick Etienne Jr., Ryan Meara, and Vincent Bezecourt all played on the 2016 USL Cup Champion NYRB II squad. Long had a stellar rookie year anchoring the back-line, and made a name for himself in MLS. He was the most consistent starter on the roster after Felipe with 30. Adams, as mentioned before, was one of the (if not the) best players for RBNY this season.
Meara served a backup role to the iron-man Luis Robles in MLS, but did see time in the Open Cup run. He was the go-to keeper in the tournament and led the team to the Final. Meara’s performances included a heroic penalty shootout win against the Philadelphia Union in the fifth round. Both Etienne and Bezecourt made quality appearances throughout the year, providing different wrinkles for the offense to explore. The development of these players is the one central positive to take away from this season.
Steps to Take for 2018
The club should, and is, going to continue to push for youth. That is the identity that has been established and the only was to find success is to stand by it completely. Fans should watch out for more homegrown signings this off-season. Notably, Academy player Ben Mines is likely to be signed after making multiple appearances for NYRB II this season.
Young signings like these must supplement higher profile, proven players. The Red Bulls must look to make one or two big money signings to bolster the offense, as well as another center-back.
While players come in, others must go, of course. After missing so much time the past few seasons due to injuries, it may be time to say goodbye to Aurelien Collin. With the youth movement in full swing, fellow Frenchman Damien Perinnelle could be on his way out as well. Most importantly, Captain Sacha Kljestan’s time at the club may have expired with the final whistle of the Conference Semifinals. Kljestan was the league leader in assists in 2017, but in order to move forward change is necessary. He will likely be on the market and there will surely be no shortage of interest.
Jesse Marsch has to focus on keeping Adams, Long, Sean Davis, Kemar Lawrence, Daniel Royer, and Felipe together as a core group. Lawrence has been attracting interest in Europe for the past two seasons, but he is a dynamic player on both sides of the ball and key to the franchise. BWP and Luis Robles are two of the older players in the squad, but do not count them out just yet. Their leadership is a valuable asset to a team that will probably only get younger, and they are still among the best in their respective positions. Expect these two to remain in an RBNY kit for at least one more year.
With a core like this to build around, Marsch is looking at one or two key additions to the midfield/offense and a quality CB. To add to that, Gideon Baah will be returning from injury and will likely be in the starting XI from the outset. While 2018 may have to be a rebuilding year, success should not only be expected, but demanded.