One of the traditions mankind has developed over the years is to take a look back on the year that was and plan for the future by coming up with New Year's Resolutions. Generally we do this on a personal basis, but this year, the staff of Once a Metro has decided to come up with some Resolutions for the New York Red Bulls.
A run at the US Open Cup. I know this isn’t a priority for a lot of fans (and the team), but it is one of mine. The Open Cup is the longest running tournament in the US and one of the longest running knockout competitions in the world. It should be taken seriously, especially since it’s the quickest way to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League. I’m not asking for the whole Starting XI to be play every game, but at least a serious lineup. I want to see players who are hungry to win a game. The 3-0 loss to the Cosmos was an embarrassment because we put out a decent lineup, but the players just didn’t show up. If we lose, we lose, but at least take the games seriously.
A trophy - same as every season. Be it a Shield or a Cup (US Open or MLS varieties only; no others need apply this year), I want a trophy. But I’m a fan, and fans always want trophies.
What I would really like to see this season is that the New York Red Bulls want the same. Despite the fact it almost paid off and we enjoyed a quite wonderful slalom through the last three months of the season, last year’s narrow focus on MLS Cup was, for me, frustrating. I want to see the team put that effort into ALL the competitions it enters in 2015.
Build a squad that is fit for purpose: competing in the league, the USOC, and - if it gets that far - the playoffs. No more shirking the challenge of the Open Cup, or shrugging at indifferent early-season form, or meekly mailing in mid-summer matches because it’s too hot or we have too many international players (we can but hope we get a few guys called away for Gold Cup and sundry national team obligations this season - it is, after all, a sign they are playing well).
The Red Bulls are rolling into their 20th year with just one major trophy in the cabinet. I don’t care too greatly about how we try to win the second: kids, continuity, invest in another superstar to lead the way; play 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, 4-3-3; there are many ways to win a game of soccer. Whatever the approach, let it be one that allows us to compete on all fronts.
We are not the most successful team in MLS, but there is no reason why we cannot be the hungriest.
Give me a vision.
For too long this team has had an end goal in mind, but no idea how to get there. It’s one thing to say, "We want to be the biggest team in the country." It’s another thing entirely to put in place a method by which to get there.
Red Bull has learned the hard way that just throwing money at the problem won’t fix it, and while things might have swung too far in the other direction -- toward austerity -- they’ve got a coach in place who knows American soccer, a Sporting Director in place who knows the league’s byzantine rules and a USL team to bridge the gap between the academy and the senior team.
Now, what I want is to see Mike Petke and Ali Curtis put their heads together, use the resources that have been afforded to them and chart a path forward, one that will get the team to those pie-in-the-sky goals they’ve been chasing for 20 years. Oh, and I’d like to see them afforded the time to get said plan in motion.
Success won’t be immediate, but if it works out, the New York Red Bulls will be a team we can all be proud of. And a team more than capable of lifting trophies on an annual basis.
Asides from the obvious trophy or two, what I would like to see from this team is an improvement in the defense. With Jamison Olave heading back to Real Salt Lake and Ibrahim Sekagya’s contract expiring, the team lacks any center backs that are starting quality. As the team now has considerable breathing room with the salary cap because of departures and expiring contracts (most notably, Thierry Henry’s), I would like to see that money used to acquire two solid starting backs to fill the gap in central defense. We already saw this money lock Bradley Wright-Phillips to a Designated Player contract.
I also want the team to use their DP slots to acquire players that can not only play in Petke’s system, but also complement Bradley Wright-Phillip's playing style. It would be interesting to see if the club goes the young designated player route, but ultimately, it should be all about their play instead of signing a shiny, new DP just for the sake of signing one.
I want the team to have a plan. Near the end of last season, it appeared they settled on a formation with the 4-2-3-1 that fit the team, yielded results, and created a spine that would be able to return in the following season (Robles/Alexander/Dax/BWP). Now the team has to make at least 4 upgrades (CB 1/CB 2/CAM/LM) to continue the momentum. However, we’ve yet to hear if the "young designated player signings" plan is actually going to be what the team is doing. The best teams are the ones where everyone is on the same page, from ownership on down. Austria, Houllier, Curtis, Petke, de Grandpre, Delaware North, etc. need to pick a plan and stick to it. And please, no more players being forced to play out of position for the sake of having them here. If they don’t fit and are outside of the plan, send them to Australia or whatever (I’m speaking generally, of course).
Oh, and a reserve team in USL Pro. Ali Curtis mentioned an affiliation during his introduction. Is it an affiliation with an existing team or a full team? Figure out what you’re doing with that and announce it, please.
In 2015 I would like to see the Red Bulls avoid conceding early goals. They led MLS last season with the amount of goals they conceded within the opening 15 minutes of a match. The reasons behind this statistic are numerous and variable, but most of it could be solved by better communication. Petke made the alignment change which I believe helped, but the club still conceded far too many early goals. They have to work on concentrating and keeping their shape without over pursuing the ball early in matches.
I am sure we will be discussing the young defense going into 2015 and Petke is a defensive minded head coach, so the concession of early goals I hope can get cleaned up and eliminated in the coming year.
It is difficult to earn good results and consequently points in the standings if the team is consistently playing from behind in matches. It leads to them pressing and then committing potentially other mistakes. The young defense and the holding midfielders have to keep the opposing team from stringing together scoring opportunities early in matches in 2015.