A year ago, the New York Red Bulls were in a very different situation.
Hurricane Sandy kicked off a whirlwind Conference Semifinal match-up with D.C. United, which they inevitably lost in heartbreaking fashion. General Manager Erik Soler was already shown the door, and it took the team less than 24 hours to cut ties with then-Head Coach Hans Backe and put Andy Roxburgh in charge of the soccer side of things. Then, the roster trimming began.
By mid-November 2012, the Red Bulls had a tiny roster, no head coach and a brand new front office. There were tons of questions, and answers were few and far between.
A year later, we've got an off-season to discuss the minutia of depth signings and academy prospects, instead of chasing down news reports about Portuguese coaches with gigs in Hungary. With the Red Bulls putting a team legend and Coach of the Year candidate in Mike Petke in charge on the field and Roxburgh proving more than competent in his new position -- not to mention filling the void in their trophy case -- the big question is what the team can do in 2014 to build off 2013's success.
It might sound premature to cut off what should be a cause for celebration, but that comes with the territory when you're American soccer's sleeping giant for nearly two decades.
For 18 years, the Red Bulls, and the MetroStars before them, were, more often than not, a mess. When they were good, they weren't good enough. When they were bad (2008), they almost won. More players have put on a MetroBulls jersey than any other team and top coaches have come and gone.
No matter what the combination -- players, coach, owner, name, stadium -- it didn't look like they could make it work, even when they seemed primed for success.
But in 2013, it all came together. That's certainly something to celebrate, but the Red Bulls now have to prove they can become one of the league's elite organizations.
Next season, the Red Bulls will be in the running for four trophies, the MLS Cup, Supporters' Shield, U.S. Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League. Starting next year, the Red Bulls have to do what was once unthinkable: Win more. That's where the bar has been set, because that's always the kind of team the Red Bulls could have, or should have, been.
Now that Petke, Roxburgh, et al have crossed the first item off their to do list, it's time to move on to the second: dominance. They've certainly got the potential.
Then again, they always have.