Despite entering this month’s international break with a sub-.500 record, there’s a tint of optimism in the view of the New York Red Bulls after the first quarter of the 2021 season. Some clumsy performances but also brilliant ones from players and manager alike have the team with a passing grade but one where few individuals are without their lowlights.
Using the ratings logged by the Once A Metro staff over the course of the season so far, we’ve handed out a few awards for the first seven weeks of the 2021 Red Bulls season. It’s like advanced analytics, but with the most important data of all: the subjective opinions of bloggers.
Best Performance of 2021 (So Far) - Caden Clark vs Toronto (8.5)
Building on a series of lively displays in the season’s opening weeks, Caden Clark’s true coming out party - not just as a goalscorer but as a passer and presser as well - was the 2-0 win over Toronto last month. After winning the ball with a daring pressure, Clark initiated the build-up that led to Frankie Amaya’s opener and then got the final dagger himself in the second half with a tap-in off a rebounded Fabio shot. Though his form has leveled off the weeks since, the Red Bulls will hope the extra rest will help the 18-year-old start the international break full of the energy that fueled his early performances.
Worst Peformance of 2021 (So Far) - Kyle Duncan vs Philadelphia (3.8)
Listen, it wasn’t an ideal situation for Kyle Duncan in last month’s 1-0 away loss against Philadelphia. Forced to switch to left back after Amro Tarek’s injury, Duncan was in a position where he has struggled in the past particularly when crossing with his opposite foot. But Duncan became a liability in a game where the Red Bulls had a chance to recover points. Frequently dragged out of position (including one moment where he stopped in the middle of live play to approach the referee for an argument) and rarely a factor going forward, it was mildly shocking that Duncan maintained the faith of his coaches in the weeks since.
Hot Seat Thermometer - Gerhard Struber (6.5)
If Gerhard Struber were a member of his squad, he would be caught up in the group of top performers bunched in the mid-six range - some outstanding days but not yet enough consistency to earn a higher quarter-season mark. Struber’s high-water mark so far is almost certainly his 2-0 victory over Toronto and predecessor Chris Armas. 6.5 seems a fair mark for a coach who technically still does have a losing record - but the sense in the air is that there could be higher scores for Struber coming as the season gathers steam.
Player of the Season (so far) - Andrew Gutman (6.8)
At a club where the system is the star and forwards sometimes don’t get the statistical production they maybe do elsewhere, attention has fallen on the fullbacks yet again in Harrison. After a harrowing acquisition process meandering through Cincinnati, Glasgow, and Atlanta, left back Andrew Gutman has handsomely rewarded Kevin Thelwell and Gerhard Struber for their persistence - that is, as long as he’s stayed on the field. After a great set of performances in the season’s early weeks where his energetic, tone-setting runs were capped off with a goal against LA Galaxy, Gutman has been out with a hip injury since the 2-0 Toronto win. Gerhard Struber himself mentioned after the 1-0 loss against Philadelphia where both Amro Tarek and the aforementioned Kyle Duncan struggled mightily in the left back role that “we find out tonight that Andrew is a very important player for us” in a somewhat droll aside. Despite appearing on the bench in recent weeks, Gutman was held off the field and Struber will hope the aversion of risk will pay off with fresh fitness for his left back after the international break.