With the end of the 2016 season comes the end of a year that saw incredible highs and incredible lows - especially for the first-team.
But for those who consider the success of New York Red Bulls II indicative of the future of the first team, 2016 was a major accomplishment as the team completed the USL treble: Eastern Conference Champion, Regular Season Champion and ultimately USL Cup Champion - one of the best seasons in the league's short history.
In an effort to connect the successes of the two clubs, we've come up with a Best XI of the combined RBNY and NYRBII squads.
The level of competition may not have been the same for NYRBII as it was for the Red Bulls first team, but the skill and talent they displayed - not to mention some of the incredible records - are to be commended and given proper respect.
Here is the combined RBNY and NYRBII Best XI of 2016:
GK Ryan Meara - Was Meara's competition as difficult as Robles'? Certainly not. But that doesn't diminish the exceptional growth he displayed this season and some of the most incredible saves by any Red Bulls stopper. In one of the best goalkeeping performances of the season, Meara deflected two of Louisville City FC's five penalty kick chances (and guessed four correctly on four of the shots) in the USL Eastern Conference final to help seal NYRBII's spot in the USL's Championship game.
DF Kemar Lawrence - 'Taxi' had another solid year for the Red Bulls and frequently demonstrated exceptional defensive skill against top MLS attackers.
DF Aurelien Collin - The big mid-season pickup was a key contributor in the team's turnaround after the 1-6 start. Though his productivity tailed off at the end of the season, there is little doubt that the Red Bulls would have had a much different season without him.
DF Aaron Long - The USL Defender of the Year led a unit that allowed the fewest goals in the USL, contributed a pair of goals, and earned minutes at the MLS and CCL level too. He'll be a starter for the Red Bulls first-team soon.
DF Connor Lade - While Lade missed a major chunk of the season (and could very well miss the pre-season too...) the Red Bulls' defense was at its best with him at RB.
MF Felipe - The Brazilian midfielder may not have the fan support or on-field discipline of Dax McCarty, but few players on the team did as much dirty work as Felipe. He was one of the most sensational free-kick takers in the league, showed the versatility to play as a defensive midfielder and a No. 10, and displayed the kind of physicality on challenges that every fan loves.
MF Tyler Adams - It was a breakout season for the Red Bulls II wonderkid as the 17-year-old midfielder (and youngest starter for either team) displayed skill well beyond his years for NYRBII and in the CCL.
MF Derrick Etienne Jr. - The Haitian Messi was in the USL what most Red Bulls fans hoped Mike Grella would be in 2016: A creative winger who can score from distance, control the ball and distribute it to the forwards.
MF Sacha Kljestan - His numbers and production speak for itself. He had an other-worldly 20 assists - beating Thierry Henry's single-season club record - and became just the 2nd player in MLS history to tally 20 assists in a season, earning himself a return to the USMNT roster in the process.
FW Brandon Allen - The USL Rookie of the Year was one goal shy of the Golden Boot, and had a historic hat trick in the USL Cup victory over Swope Park Rangers. Many comparisons were drawn between Allen and Dom Dwyer after the game, and with a ceiling like that, it won't be long before he plies his trade in MLS.
FW Bradley Wright-Phillips - Though the Goal King won't admit it himself, 2016 was a banner year for the Red Bulls' star striker. While he struggled to find the net through the first 7 games of the season, he quickly regained his form and became a terror for defenders and goalkeepers everywhere, notching 24 goals in the final 27 matches. As of writing he is a candidate for MLS MVP, and is considered one of the two real frontrunners for the award along with David Villa.
Obviously this ranking is not without controversy. Luis Robles, Dax McCarty, Justin Bilyeu and Zach Carroll were all pushed aside despite solid, if not remarkable seasons in their respective leagues.
What do you think? Who would you put in your Best Combined XI?