When the New York Red Bulls were eliminated in the 2016 MLS Cup playoffs by the Montreal Impact, it was a disappointment to RBNY fans, players and staff. When Jesse Marsch followed Mauro Biello in the post-match interview procession, he was clearly dejected and at times couldn't finish sentences.
But when he showed up along with Ali Curtis to the exit interviews to put a cap on this season, Marsch was in a sunnier mood. He explained to the media he felt that this season was a positive and many of the goals the club had targeted for the 2016 season were achieved - except for the big one that is the MLS Cup
"Yes, the season was a success. I think when you look at it, there are a number of accolades and accomplishments this club had by advancing to the knockout stages of the CONCACAF Champions League, going 20 games unbeaten, being one of the top attacking teams for our fans and great at home, winning the East again," said Marsch.
"The seasons that Bradley [Wright-Phillips] and Sacha [Kljestan] had and the goals that Brad has been able to set and the record for consecutive games played by Luis [Robles]. For me, at the end of all that, there is a foundation of a certain kind of environment that has been created here that has set the tone for what this organization has become. And for me, it's obviously the results speak the loudest - and we wanted to win the Cup this year because we felt it was the true way to honor the success and accomplishments on the work that has been done on the inside.
We feel that there is enough results in our favor on what's being created here: the identity of the club that has been building here, this team and the foundation of what a real club should be about. I think we are unique in that way and I think our fans have gravitated towards that way, but the disappointment of not getting this Cup is widespread along this community."
The number one goal for this club is to win hardware. The number one goal is to lift a Cup and celebrate with the die-hard supporters that have followed this side from the days of the MetroStars, when this league began back in 1996. With 21 seasons gone, the club has only two Supporters' Shields in its trophy cabinet. Yes, they have been won in the last four seasons, but the preceding barren years don't lend themselves to a patient outlook.
Winning MLS Cup or US Open Cup remains an elusive goal. The team has been to one final in each tournament: hosting the 2003 USOC final and losing to the Chicago Fire; falling to Columbus Crew in the 2008 MLS Cup final.
Sporting Director Ali Curtis added on to what Marsch said on the day. "Just to pick up on what Jesse said, there is a lot to be proud of in terms of what happened this year as we look at some of the guys we brought over from our academy, you see what they did in the USL. And at the end of the day, we weren't able to deliver an MLS Cup to the community," said Curtis, "But we will be right back at it. We have a good team and we will be better and we will bring an MLS Cup."
Curtis has started planning the 2017 roster, noting he had identified targets in MLS and elsewhere. Israeli International Omer Damari will be sent back to Red Bull Leipzig, but the club is feeling good about its reserve team and the prospects that won NYRB II's first USL Championship. With John Wolyniec running the USL side, both Curtis and Marsch are seeing players like Brandon Allen, Aaron Long, Derrick Etienne Jr., Florian Valot and Vincent Bezecourt ready to step up to the first team.
Sean Davis showed last year he was able to contribute at the MLS level, and he advanced that claim this season. Wolyniec has kept the pipeline of talent flowing this year, while also guiding the reserves to a dominant year in USL.
For me, this season's big success was the first team's ability to navigate two major bumps in the road. The 1-6 start to the league campaign could have capsized the season before it had really started, and the subsequent habit losing two-goal leads threatened to undermine the work that was done to salvage the bad start.
Surprisingly, given their start, the Red Bulls clinched the Eastern Conference regular season title and picked up a ticket to the 2017-18 CONCACAF Champions League. That means the 2017 season will have two shots of CCL, beginning with the 2016-17 edition's quarterfinals. RBNY will host Vancouver Whitecaps at the end of February to start what it hopes will be a successful, trophy-laden 2017.
So 2016 ended as every season in RBNY history has ended: without MLS Cup. There were positives, and there were trophies - albeit for the II team. And, of course, there were highlights like the 7-0 win over noisy neighbor NYCFC.
But, as Curtis and Marsch made clear in their end-of-season comments, the consolation of isolated results only goes so far. The objective of every season is to win trophies - and MLS Cup in particular. And it is with that goal at the forefront that the club now heads into the off-season, hoping to prepare itself for a better start and a stronger finish to 2017 than it had in 2016.