|photo by Matt Kremkau
by Garry Redman
As I began my eighth season as a soccer correspondent with the Red Bull News Network, I promised my editor and readers that I would be more of a hawk and less of a dove. I'm giving the team more of a critical eye this season and the seasons to come.
I made that promise for many reasons, but chief among them were the promises made by this franchise, which were kept from its fanbase. 28 seasons of promises. 28 seasons of them left unfulfilled.
At first glance, it looked like the New York Red Bulls were finally making the moves that would put them firmly in the category of an elite side worthy of being called a "contender." But before you go out and celebrate, please be aware that the supporters have heard this before:
And in 2023...
So you can see why the fans responded to those announcements with a collected and dismissive shrug. The response from the fanbase was more of a "Yeah? Really? Show us.". If you asked them, every season was the same song, with different verses.
The fans and supporters were given some hope and excitement when Denis Hamlett's contract was not renewed, and a door was opened to bring in someone "with MLS experience," said Head of Sport Jochen Schnider, to take the team to the next level, a level not seen since 2018.
Former Head Coach Troy Lesesne's efforts (heroic as it may be) were not enough to warrant a contract, and thus, he was shown the door with a hearty "Thank You" from the club. He was unemployed for a short time, getting a second chance with D.C. United, who happens to be the Red Bulls' most hated enemy. His replacement, Sandro Schwartz, has about the same MLS experience as his predecessor and his predecessor before him. Which was none. Some accomplished and seasoned head coaches were available but still needed to meet the club's demands.
To be fair, the team did indeed make some necessary moves, such as letting midfielder Omir Fernandez go to Colorado Rapids, sending the much-maligned forward Tom Barlow to the Chicago Fire, who scored against his former team in a friendly last week, midfielder Dru Yearwood was traded to Nashville SC, defender Hassan Ndam took his talents to F.C. Haka. And lastly, midfielder Luquinhas was transferred to Fortaleza Esporte Clube.
Midfielder Emil Forsberg was brought over from Red Bull Leipzig, who wasted no time getting himself acquainted with his new team, doing something like this during a friendly. While his skill set should not be questioned too much, fans were under the impression that there were more players of his caliber incoming.
Then they signed Swedish youth international Noah Eile from Malmö F.F., a transfer suitable for depth, and signed Montclair NJ native Rolad Mitchell with a first-team contract as a homegrown, and picked up the former University of Virginia Aidan O'Connor was given an MLS contract after being selected in the first round of MLS SuperDraft to round out the roster for the moment.
As a result, the fans who expected a massive overhaul that screamed "MLS Cup contender" ended with a whimper. While other teams excite their fanbases with massive names and experienced players, the Front Office, for the moment, has settled on a European cast-off and a few young players. On top of that, there has yet to be a Sporting Director announcement. This differs from how you excite your fanbase before the season starts, which is less than a month away.
While the defense was not a severe problem (39 goals allowed - tied with four teams with the third-best G.A.), offensively, however, that was a different story, and aside from season-ending injuries with two of their best players (more on that later), was the main reason among others, that they didn't wind up higher in the Eastern Conference table.
Speaking of offense, the Red Bulls scored 36 goals last season; out of those, their forwards scored only 12. Elias Manoel and Tom Barlow were tied with three goals each. Indeed, if they have any ambitions of being a contender and thus said with a straight face this season, they will need to score more. A lot more. Their current group of forwards will have no choice but to step up their game this season.
It may be a sore subject, but the team must acquire a bonified striker. An honest-to-goodness actual number nine. They need to sign one badly if they want to be considered a threat for a championship run.
Looking at the current squad, they are essentially the same team, minus a few new pieces. And with forward Dante Vanzier and midfielder Lewis Morgan returning from their season-ending injuries, all is not bad with the Metro Boys. Still, after being shown the door by F.C. Cincinnati in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs once again, the fanbase wants more than empty promises from the Front Office. They want a deep run in the playoffs that ends with the team holding silverware when it's all over.
Only then will the complaints and apathy cease. The empty seats in the arena will be filled with fans from all over the NYC Metro area.