The practice of retiring numbers and enshrining rings of honor is one of the increasingly few American sports mannerisms adopted in MLS stadiums, and Red Bull Arena is no different. A far cry from the early days of concrete walls as bare as Luke Rodgers’ skull, the RBA proscenium is now papered over with slogans, sponsors, and symbols of the club’s history - few more prominent than the “20 for 20” list emblazoned on the front barrier of the club’s luxury boxes.
Installed in 2015 for the club’s twentieth anniversary ceremonies, the list is an eclectic and memory-provoking one fitting of a club with such a volatile identity. Iconic global legends like Thierry Henry and Roberto Donadoni rub shoulders with Rhett Harty and Mark Chung in a postmodern Mount Rushmore of modern American soccer that communicates prestige while also honoring the less-glamorous past that a club and league so focused on the future can often neglect.
With the years since 2015 having been arguably the club’s most successful period, surely adding an additional five players to the face of the arena would be a contentious discussion. As the club approaches its 25th anniversary year in 2021, here are a few picks to make the cut:
BRADLEY WRIGHT PHILLIPS
The easiest name to punch onto the wall, especially considering he’s already on it. During the 2018 season following his 100th league goal, BWP’s number 99 was pre-emptively retired and marked on the concrete beam adjacent to the 20 for 20 list. The RBNY GOAT himself put his journeyman status in the English leagues behind him upon arriving in New York in 2013, going on a hot scoring streak that never ended. Upon leaving the club this past offseason his 108 league goals were a club record that will take a massive effort to overcome.
In a career arc paralleling Wright-Phillips, Luis Robles reclaimed his career from the brink of stepping away to become a real estate agent in 2013. After filling in following an injury to somehow-still RBNY backup Ryan Meara, Robles heroically backstopped the shield-winning teams of the late 2010s and bonded with club’s fanbase from his South Ward-adjacent goalmouth. Robles held the starting keeper job longer than any other player in the club’s history before leaving at the end of 2019, and his place in the top 25 is unquestioned.
Strangely for a Californian, Sacha Kljestan’s career weaves through the fabric of the New Jersey soccer scene, from his days as a Manny Schellscheidt recruit at Seton Hall to being a Bob Bradley pet call-up for the US national team to being the veteran linchpin of Jesse Marsch’s Red Bull squads. Signed from Anderlecht soon after Marsch’s installation as manager, Kljestan provided the guile and finesse to the otherwise frenetic attacking style of the “energy drink soccer” era and captained the club to an Open Cup final appearance before a mutually-arranged transfer to Orlando in late 2017.
While Kljestan stood out for his contrast from the high-tempo style of the late 2010’s Red Bulls, wonderkid Tyler Adams was the embodiment of the club’s technical aspirations at their peak. First entering the public consciousness as a 16-year-old braces-wearing, goal-scoring academy fill-in against Chelsea, the Dutchess County native left the club for RB Leipzig three years later as a fearless midfield dominator. Covering ground, creating chances, and barking instructions at players almost twice his age, Adams’ impact on the spirit and production of the squad that eventually set the league points record in 2018 was immeasurable.
The outrage from much of the fanbase over McCarty’s trade on the eve of the 2017 season still echoes through Red Bull Arena on matchdays. The red-haired midfield engine arrived in Harrison in 2011 as a complimentary piece to the star-studded Hans Backe side before emerging as the heartbeat of the squad over three management regimes and the the club’s first two Supporters Shield titles. McCarty’s dogged tackling, visionary passing and extroverted personality was a key pillar of the club’s recent maturation, and his place in a newly-enshrined top 25 would be unquestioned.