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RBNY 2014 Season Preview: The Rest

Now that we've gotten ours out of the way, how does the rest of the MLS media world see 2014 shaking out for the Red Bulls?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Over here, we're optimistic -- despite some tempering on our part -- about the 2014 season.

But we're not the only Red Bulls watchers. Plenty of other people have opinions, too. How do they see 2014 shaping up for the defending Supporters' Shield champions?

Alex Labidou at ESPN FC expects the Red Bulls to be competitive. How competitive rests on Thierry Henry's shoulders...

Whether it's fair or not, the pressure is again on Henry to bring New York to the promised land and win the MLS Cup. Since arriving in 2010, there's no question that Henry has been among MLS's top five players (even sometimes the league's best), but last year was a relatively average year for the French striker with 10 goals and nine assists. Even more telling about Henry is his shot target percentage has dipped in each of his MLS seasons, going from a superb 46 percent in 2011 to 42 percent in 2012 and dipping much lower to 31 percent in 2013.

Entering the last year of his contract, Henry has at times hinted that he'd like another year in New York, before ultimately dodging the topic altogether closer to the season. If he wants to extend his stay in New York, he'll need to show that last year was an aberration and, despite his physical decline, prove he's still one of the best technical strikers in the world. If not, we could all be waving au revoir to Henry at the end of the season.

To's Matthew Doyle, it's not just Henry in a battle against time...

But so, so much depends upon how much Henry, Cahill and Olave have in the tank. Yes, there are guys like Bradley Wright-Phillips (a very useful player) and Ibrahim Sekagya in reserve, but the drop-off would be enough to knock this team from "Shield contender" to whatever the next tier is.

So New York fans should understand this: There's the opponent to worry about every week, but the greater battle is the one against the clock.

The Red Bulls' biggest hurdle to Franco Panizo, writing at Soccer By Ives, is how much the rest of the East has done to get better...

The problem, however, lies in that a tight salary cap situation restricted New York from adding any major pieces and the Eastern Conference as a whole got substantially better. Toronto FC is now a star-studded squad with the likes of Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe and Julio Cesar. The Philadelphia Union have transformed into a more skillful team with the additions of midfielders Vincent Nogueira, Maurice Edu and Cristian Maidana. Even lowly D.C. United have revamped their roster with some nice pieces.

Have the Red Bulls done enough to fight the rest of the East off? Petke and his staff think so, especially with the tinkering they have done to the lineup and tactics. No, the club is not going to stray away from old reliable, the 4-4-2 formation that they deployed effectively en route to claiming some hardware last year. But there will be some minor changes to the setup, such as Luyindula seeing more time in a central midfield role and Cahill playing closer to goal.

ProSoccerTalk's Richard Farley warns that if things get bad, they can go downhill quickly...

But in a managerial world where coaches prefer to focus on their own teams, Petke has is own internal obstacles. The threat of further regression from Henry is real, and with Cahill set to miss a large chunk of the season at the World Cup, the team could find itself short on scoring options. If Olave starts experiencing some of the same injury concerns that defined his last years in Salt Lake, New York suddenly looks like a candidate to collapse.

That would require a lot of ifs to fall in line; then again, when things go south, the negatives often start complementing each other (see San Jose, 2013). New York is capable of competing near the top of the East once more, but in 2014, Petke's likely to see a new set of problems.

Overall, the rest of the punditry thinks the Red Bulls will turn in solid performances, but see the East as too jam packed to finger them as the favorite.