The 2016 season for the New York Red Bulls was one that featured twists and turns unlike many in their history. Highs and lows were aplenty, but a familiar frustration in the MLS Cup playoffs once again reared its ugly head to finish off a promising season.
New York Red Bulls 2016 Season Review
A 3-1 aggregate score against the Montreal Impact in the Eastern Conference semi-finals ended New York’s postseason early, with players and fans alike left searching for answers.
2016 began with one of the worst starts in franchise history, as head coach Jesse Marsch and his squad limped to a 1-0-6 record in league play. Star striker Bradley Wright-Phillips had not scored a goal during that stretch and injuries were taking their toll on the defense.
But their poor run of form was about to come to end.
The coming months were highlighted by a 7-0 road victory over Hudson River neighbors NYCFC and a trade for veteran defender Aurelien Collin. Considering only a conditional fourth-round draft pick in January’s MLS Superdraft was sent to Orlando City SC for the French center-back’s services, the deal goes down as one of the team’s best transactions in years.
The Red Bulls finished the MLS regular season on a 16-game unbeaten streak, the best in club history. The results saw New York finish on top of the Eastern Conference for the third time in the past four years. The incredibly consistent months also featured topping their CONCACAF Champions League group and extending the undefeated run to 20 games across all competitions.
With so much positivity, the playoff exit brings an added sting to all involved with the organization as they prepare for the off-season ahead.
What Went Right
The Red Bulls offense was as potent as ever in 2016. Forward Bradley Wright-Phillips captured the MLS Golden Boot with 24 goals in the regular season, adding five assists along the way. The team’s all-time leader in goals has continued his amazing production since arriving in 2013.
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan also had a season to remember. The US international’s 20 assists led MLS and he tallied six goals as well. Kljestan’s desire and leadership were noteworthy intangibles that kept the impressive unbeaten run alive.
Aurelien Collin’s arrival significantly improved the Red Bulls’ defense. A former MLS All-Star and MLS Cup MVP with Sporting Kansas City, Collin’s experience and knowledge was key in solidifying the backline for New York.
The Red Bulls continued their strong development system also, with New York Red Bulls II capturing both the USL Cup and USL regular season titles. Young players like Brandon Allen and Derrick Etienne Jr. were able to shine and continue their growth towards the senior team in a successful way in 2016.
New York made history in the fall by winning Group F of the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League and advancing to the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time. The squad will be preparing for an early start to 2017 in February when they meet fellow MLS side Vancouver Whitecaps FC in a two-leg series. The team’s finish at the top of the MLS Eastern Conference secured a berth in the 2017-18 edition of the Champions League.
What Went Wrong
New York’s performances on the road undermined their strong season in many ways, posting a record of 3-7-7 away from Red Bull Arena. Their habit of losing two-goal leads became a regular occurrence and often felt more like losses during the club’s unbeaten streak. Matches against the Los Angeles Galaxy, D.C. United and the Philadelphia Union were all occasions when the Red Bulls lost focus and could not see out a victory.
Injuries hampered the team’s progress during much of 2016. New signing Gideon Baah, Connor Lade, team captain Dax McCarty, Damien Perrinelle and Kemar Lawrence all missed significant time with various ailments.
The additions of forward Omer Damari and midfielder Daniel Royer did not boost the Red Bulls offense like the club had hoped. Fitness issues affected both players and while Royer will most likely be back in 2017, the future is less certain for Damari.
The Red Bulls will want to continue the search for depth behind Wright-Phillips at the top of the formation. The role of Gonzalo Veron is an area to be discussed and examined as well. Players who saw their playing time decrease significantly during 2016, like Mike Grella and Sal Zizzo, could see a change of scenery.
The organization will need to prepare for the upcoming MLS Expansion Draft in December and decide which players need to be protected.
Depth along the backline will be important, as will identifying which reserve players may be ready to contribute to the first team. The Red Bulls strong display in USL this season bodes well for future success.
The 21st MLS campaign for the New York Red Bulls did not end in a league championship. Another strong regular season unfortunately was scratched out by painful postseason elimination. The pieces of a successful team are in place. It will be up to head coach Jesse Marsch and sporting director Ali Curtis to find ways of adding to these pieces with an eye towards MLS Cup 2017.