As part of SB Nation’s team-by-team preview of the 2022 Major League Soccer season, Once A Metro managing editor Ben Cork tells us what to expect from the New York Red Bulls.
New York Red Bulls (2021: 13-12-9, 7th in East, eliminated in opening round of playoffs by Philadelphia in extra time)
Head coach: Gerhard Struber (2nd season)
Key additions: Lewis Morgan, Luquinhas, Dylan Nealis, Daniel Edelman
Key losses: Sean Davis, Fabio Gomes, Andrew Gutman, Kyle Duncan
Projected Best XI: 4-4-2 — Carlos Coronel, John Tolkin, Aaron Long, Sean Nealis, Tom Edwards, Dru Yearwood, Cristian Cásseres, Lewis Morgan, Luquinhas, Caden Clark, Patryk Klimala
Best offseason move: With new designated player Luquinhas making the biggest Red Bulls transfer splash of the offseason this week, it becomes even easier to forget Lewis Morgan’s acquisition all the way back in December. The Scotland international attacker was a dynamic presence on an otherwise dire Inter Miami team over the last two years, and he appears hungry to play for a more competitive side in New York.
Best reason to pay attention: After a couple years of damage assessment and squad rebuilding, the Red Bulls appeared primed to contend for more than just the last playoff spot in 2022.
First-year head coach Gerhard Struber built a strong defensive structure in 2021 while sporting executive Kevin Thelwell lowered the squad’s age considerably, and now the team has surrounded talented young striker Patryk Klimala with experienced wingers Lewis Morgan and Luquinhas to spark an attack that often struggled to capitalize on strong team performances in 2021. Deeper down the formation, highly-touted prospects John Tolkin, Daniel Edelman, and Lucas Monzon appear primed to take on larger roles, while the team’s unsung “addition” of the offseason is the return of US international center back Aaron Long from the achilles injury that erased his 2021 campaign.
But then, on the morning of this preview’s publishing, Thelwell left the club for Everton — this coming just days after Struber had downplayed the club’s expectations after what he said was a “difficult” transfer window. New York’s season has become a complete wild card, but the apparent signing of English forward Ashley Fletcher could be a good early vital sign ahead of a gut check opener against San Jose.
The one glaring weakness : A recurring theme with following the Red Bulls is fear of the unknown. This is a club famous (some would say infamous) for actively turning over personnel and expecting new talent to step into the void.
This winter was the second consecutive one to see numerous departures for a rebuilding New York squad. Andrew Gutman returned to Atlanta United after his loan expired, Fabio Gomes signed with Atletico Mineiro after the end of his loan, while Kyle Duncan left as a free agent for the Belgian league. But few exits are as monumental as that of Sean Davis, the intelligent, understated holding midfielder who captained and played every minute of 2021 for the Red Bulls.
While the defensive exits have largely been addressed, the holes higher up the field will be tougher to engineer. It is unclear what the club’s plans are to replace Davis and Fabio’s minutes. However, with the signings of Luquinhas and Morgan likely dropping Cristian Cásseres, Caden Clark, and Frankie Amaya deeper, it seems the midfield will have a new structure where the role Davis played largely doesn’t exist. Such an adjustment could be the difference between success and failure in 2022.