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Opinion: It's a reset, not a rebuild for the New York Red Bulls in 2021

(photo by Matt Kremkau)

With the 2021 Major League Soccer season rapidly approaching for the New York Red Bulls, the consensus among the fanbase, experts, and pundits around the nation are looking at this team finishing near the bottom or completely out of playoff contention.

Head of Sport Kevin Thelwell and new head coach Gerhard Struber has constructed a roster filled with last year's holdovers, loanees, castoffs from other MLS and European clubs, and devoid of big-named, superstar Designated Players. At least on paper, the team looks to be another potential disappointment for the supporters this season.

And after two seasons of aimlessly looking like a soccer team with former Head Coach Chris Armas at the helm, the organization's technical staff has wisely decided to get back to basics. Specifically, to get back what brought them all of their success since 2015. While it looks like a rebuild to some, it's a philosophical reset for the New York Red Bulls in 2021.

The one point everyone can agree on is this: Unless one employed the use of a crystal ball, not a single person has a clue on how this team will respond to a new head coach. One who was brought in to employ the system that brought them some measure of success. A method has been the standard throughout all soccer teams within the Red Bull Global football empire.

Another critical element overlooked is some players have remained from last season after to make room for 11 new players that will have a significant role this season.

Long-time goalkeeper Ryan Meara was sharing his playing time with David Jensen last season. Carlos Coronel and Luca Lewis were signed to shore up a Red Bulls' defense that gave up 31 goals last season.

Veteran center-back Aaron Long will anchor the defense corps, where Kyle Duncan, Jason Pendant, Sean Nealis, Amro Tarek, and John Tolkin were the players left over last year. Thelwell added Tom Edwards, Andrew Gutman, and Andres Reyes during the offseason.

Midfielder and team captain Sean Davis is part of a crowded group that includes Caden Clark, Omir Fernandez, Daniel Royer, Florian Valot, Cristian Casseres, Dru Yearwood. This year's additions include Youba Diarra, Bento Estrela, and Wikeman Carmona.

Finally, Tom Barlow and Brian While are the team's current forwards, Brazilian striker Fabio joins the duo this season.

If there is anything for the supporters to be worried about, it is the offense. Specifically, just who is going to move the ball to the forwards to score goals? And, do so in a manner similar two seasons ago, where they finished at the top of the table with 71 points, capturing their third Supporters' Shield trophy in six seasons, scoring 62 goals along the way.

Barring all of that, this is a playoff team as it stands for now. Starting the gate slowly as usual, but as the current and newly acquired talents begin to get to know one another on the pitch, they'll gather some steam to fight those elite squads among the top spots in the conference.

Is this a roster that screams "MLS Cup Contender"? Probably not. Could they wind up in the cellar of the league? Perhaps. The Red Bulls haven't finished dead last since 2009. They've qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs every season since. And while that's not making their ardent supporters jump for joy, it's certainly an achievement worth noting. 

One important thing to remember, Thelwell constructed this roster for Struber, the new coach who arrived, not for the one who departed and ended up in Toronto. Meaning there is room for growth beyond his first season in charge. Until we know what happens next and why things failed, let's keep those so-called dire prognostications (and unrealistic expectations) on hold for a moment.

This philosophical reset was something long overdue. While it may not have the same gravitas as the team that former head coach Jesse Marsch took control of in 2015. There's ample reason to believe that Struber and Thelwell deserve at least a season or two to see what they can do to bring this team closer to a status worthy of a championship team.


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