On the heels of a disappointing 2019, the New York Red Bulls approach their 25th season still searching for their first MLS Cup.
This past season was all the more concerning given that it was just one year removed from the third Supporters Shield in the Red Bulls history.
Here’s an early look at the New York Red Bulls 2020 season.
BWP and Robles Moved Out
In the team’s opening offseason salvo, New York cut ties with team legends Bradley Wright-Phillips and Luis Robles. Expect a different look from the team when play resumes in March.
There will also be a different look in the stadium, as the Red Bulls have added a safe standing section. This is a welcome and positive addition at Red Bull Arena as opposed to the recent tarping over of seats in the upper reaches at RBA.
In the absence of big money signings, the Red Bulls have cultivated a “build from within” approach that has earned the team model franchise kudos while keeping overhead low.
It is a conservative model for a team operating in the hyper competitive New York sports market. This strategy will be tested in the upcoming transfer window as Sporting Director Denis Hamlett looks to replace the 20 or so goals per season that BWP has routinely delivered.
The Kids Are Alright?
With Wright-Phillips out of action for much of last season coach, Chris Armas coaxed good production from Brian White. The team recently announced that the 23 year-old has re-upped for the year.
Last season the former Duke man made the leap from Red Bulls II and did an admirable job, scoring nine goals in 17 appearances. This included a 15 match stretch that saw White ring the bell eight times before he was slowed by injury.
New York can also look to athletic 24 year-old forward Tom Barlow to pick up some of the scoring slack. Barlow chipped in three goals in 12 games, eight of them starts.
Armas has expressed his belief in White, saying in a team release, “Brian proved last year that he has what it takes to be a goal scorer at this level.” But will the Red Bulls settle for going into the season with White and Barlow as their strike pair or will this be the season that sees the Austrian home office loosen the purse strings?
A flashy signing at the striker position would be a statement of intent for a restless fanbase. What about Mario Ballotelli?
Ryan Meara – Heee’s Back
The team’s goalkeeping situation would seem to be more straightforward with Ryan Meara set to slide back into the starters role that he lost to injury – and Robles – way back in 2013. The Red Bulls decision to allow Robles to walk indicates confidence in Meara, as do these remarks from Hamlett: “He (Meara) is one of our leaders in our locker room, and we are expecting big things from him this season.”
Hamlett may have his work cut out for him in order to secure the RBNY defense in front of his once and future starting keeper.
The GM has decisions to make regarding two of his top defensive players, USMNT central defender Aaron Long and Jamaican international fullback Kemar Lawrence.
Long’s rise to prominence with the USMNT started the rumor mill churning last summer. With the January transfer window looming, the churning continues.
Lawrence has requested a trade.
In concert with center back Tim Parker and fullback Michael Murillo, the pair combined to make the Red Bulls defense the league’s best in 2018, a status that was not maintained in 2019.
Murillo was especially poor, with Armas losing faith in the Panamanian national team regular. He eventually transferred to Belgian giants Anderlecht.
Red Bulls could be justified in sticking with a home grown pair in replacing Murillo, although replacing Long and Lawrence might require looking further afield.
U.S. U23 man and Tim Weah cousin Kyle Duncan looks to have the inside track on the right back position. Rece Buckmaster will provide competition and depth. Duncan has also played on the left but is clearly more comfortable and effective on his natural right side.
Kaku Can Do?
Moving up the pitch, Armas will be accounting on a return to form from creator Alejandro Sebastián Romero Gamarra, aka Kaku. A failed off-season transfer to Club America put the Paraguay international in a funk that lasted most of last season. However, he remains a top quality MLS midfielder.
Hamlett’s replacement by committee strategy failed to make up for the loss of Tyler Adams, although the emergence of 19 year-old Venezuelan Christian Casserres is a promising development for 2020.
Midfielder/forward Daniel Royer remains one of the most underrated players in MLS, having scored 11, 11, and 12 goals in his three full seasons with New York. Royer is a tireless worker on both sides of the ball who also chipped in eight assists in 2019.
Hamlett chose to stick with Armas for the 2020 season but it may be his job on the line in 2020. 25 years without an MLS Cup is a long time and stadium improvements are unlikely to appease fans who can’t help but look at the success of expansion sides Atlanta United, LAFC, and even itinerant NYCFC and ask for more.