As the calendar turns from February to March, the New York Red Bulls are back in Harrison conducting the final stages of preparations for the 2016 season. Coming off the franchise’s second Supporter’s Shield win in three seasons, head coach Jesse Marsch leads the team into the 2016 MLS season in search of the team’s ever-elusive first MLS Cup triumph.
If there is one consistent trend throughout the years in the land of the Red Bulls, it’s that the off season always has its share of surprises and shake-ups. The 2015-16 edition proved to be yet another unexpected one for the Red Bulls but for an entirely different reason than we’re used to around these parts: nothing happened.
There was no organizational upheaval, no bizarre coaching decisions, and no headline-grabbing signings.
The off season's biggest story, the departure of star defender Matt Miazga to Chelsea of the English Premier League, can be described as not only a good piece of business by the team, but also an expected move for the rising 20 year-old American defender. Not only that, New York seemed to have his replacement already in their sights as a mere 10 days later the team acquired Ghanaian center back Gideon Baah from HJK Helsinki of the Finnish first division.
Of the nine departures from the 2015 MLS roster, all except Miazga were non-factors or merely bit players. Left backs Roy Miller and Anthony Wallace accounted for 11 of the 12 starts for the non-Miazga players to depart the team.
This is no accident. Sporting Director Ali Curtis and coach Marsch spent 2015 crafting a team that would easily transition into 2016.
"We’ve made a concerted effort to to keep this team together," Marsch said in a team preseason preview video. "Everybody feels that the group that we have is a good one and that is the main emphasis of where we are as a team and as a club. We feel good about our group and we’re happy that we’ve been able to keep most of it together."
The only players signed by Curtis, aside from Baah, were a treasure trove of seven homegrown players challenged to fill out the MLS roster while two draft picks wait in the wings. (One of those, Mael Corboz, was waived yesterday.) "Youth development is where this club is going to thrive," Curtis told NewYorkRedBulls.com in January and so far, he seems to be sticking to that mantra.
The Miazga sale (and Damien Perrinelle’s extended stay on the sidelines due to a knee injury suffered during the playoffs) created a large hole in the center of NY’s backline. However, the team may be in alright shape in central defense as Baah’s performances during the preseason seem to indicate that he’s ready to fit right into the Red Bulls’s pressing system with his speed and technical ability.
One player that may be primed for a much bigger role and act as a de-facto new signing is Gonzalo Veron.
The 26-year-old Argentine winger, signed to a Designated Player contract last summer, featured mostly as a super-sub in 2015. By all indications, Marsch plans to make Veron a focal point of the RBNY attack in 2016. The emergence of a player of Veron’s ability who has already spent a good amount of time integrating himself into the team is just yet another sign of NY’s quiet offseason. Rather than acquiring a high-profile DP and trying to change the team on the fly, Curtis signed a young, low-profile star who was given time to mesh with his teammates rather than making his teammates mesh with him.
In an offseason that was one the quietest in recent memory for the New York Red Bulls, it may just be a signing that was made eight months ago that will make the most noise in 2016.