Go back to the day after the 2014 All-Star game when Landon Donovan announced his retirement and you can see my prediction for what MLS Cup would be: The Red Bulls at the LA Galaxy. If not for a missed handball that was ruled a goal, I would have been correct in this prediction. So, what do you do a week before the draft going into the next season? You fire your most successful coach and start the 19th rebuilding process in a 20-year history.
Yes, Red Bull fan favorite and club legend, Mike Petke is no longer the coach of a club he bled for. New GM Ali Curtis fired him and hired Jesse Marsch in an extremely short time. This is not going to change and we all have to unfortunately move on and look ahead to the 2015 season.
Yes, we all know their will be a giant void on the left side of the attack with Henry’s retirement but there were plenty of other roster moves for NY that completely change the dynamic of this team. Besides Henry, Olave is now gone so the fans don’t have to worry about players missing games just because they will be played on turf. Other key losses were the trade of Oyongo and Alexander to Montreal, options being declined on Sekagya and Kimura, and the loan of Ryan Meara to NYCFC. Some might not agree that all these players were key losses but for most, it was their versatility on the field that could potentially hurt NY in the long run.
There were huge additions made by Marsch and Curtis prior to first kick. Sacha Kljestan, not on a DP deal, is first and foremost. The American midfielder returns from Belgium after a successful stint with Anderlecht. Klejstan reunites with his former central midfield partner in Marsch, and US teammates Luis Robles and Dax McCarty. Felipe Martins, only 9 months older than Oyongo, came the other way in the trade with Montreal. The 24-year-old playmaker will be one of BWP’s main sources of distribution this season. On defense, NY had a complete overhaul in its center. Damien Perinelle has minimal MLS experience but he was resigned to a deal. Alongside him, Ronald Zubar, Andrew Jean-Baptiste and most likely Jhon Kennedy Hurtado will be set up in front of Luis Robles.
Downgrade: Luis Robles, after putting up yet another ignore Keeper of the Year performance will get the call between the sticks for NY. However, young Ryan Meara traveled on loan across the Hudson to the noisy neighbors. NY brought in longtime MLS backup Kyle Reynish in case of anything. It’s not a knock against Reynish but losing a young and tested keeper to the team across the river hurt. Badly.
Upgrade: The upgrade of this roster is most definitely its midfield, which is not surprising given Marsch’s playing history. Klejstan will most likely slot alongside Dax and he is a clear upgrade over Eric Alexander (who I will miss being able to talk gaming with). Oyongo’s position was never set in stone but Sal Zizzo has solid MLS experience and can provide more defensive cover than Oyongo and is less prone to stupid challenges that should have been red cards. Felipe may make Peguy Luyindula a full time tv station owner if he can get settled. Antoher reason this position was an upgrade: the draft and the RBNY Academy. NY signed the best player in college soccer for 2014, Leo Stoltz to a deal and Sean Davis signed a homegrown contract. While it’s likely they will see more time with Red Bulls II, they are both players that can make an impact in 2015.
Potential Disaster: The biggest question mark, once again for NY, is its defense. It looks as if the starting four will be Duvall, Zubar, Perinelle, and Miller. Roy Miller is the only sure one you can bet on (can’t believe I said that) and Duvall should have added some longevity and experience to his legs. However, if the 2015 Red Bulls repeat the 2014 theme of the revolving door of centerbacks, Marsh may be in the hot seat before the halfway point of the season (though I don’t see it that way).
Unsure: Sure, NY still has BWP fresh off a shiny new DP contract from scoring 27 goals last season but there are plenty of question marks regarding their front line. Besides BWP and the other elder Frenchmen Peguy Luyindula, RBNY signed Mike Grella to a contract but Grella may play more in the midfield than up top. Without BWP last season, the Red Bulls most likely finish outside the playoff picture but it will be hard for him to replicate the strike rate he had in 2014. If injuries come a knocking, NY could be relying on their midfield for goal production.
Starting XI: Robles-Duvall-Zubar-Perinelle-Miller-Dax-Sacha-Sam-Felipe-Grella/Zizzo-BWP.
This is the team I see lining up at SKC come this Sunday night. Through the season this will most likely change. We’ll have to see how Marsch’s team gels on the field and if they can continually play that up-tempo, “energy drink” soccer he talked about.
Save the Date: Besides the season opener at SKC and the home opener against DC, here are the dates you should pay attention to for 2015.
4/26 Home vs LA Galaxy
5/10 The First NY Derby at RBA
6/28 Away in the House that Jeter Built
7/19 First meeting with Kaka in Orlando
8/15 Jozy and Bradley return to their roots
9/25 Kaka comes to the Ironbound
X-Factor: How the Red Bulls are doing come the summer transfer window will determine if Marsch and Curtis sign a big DP. Whatever you want to believe about the Austrian Overlords wanting to pull out and not spend money, they wouldn’t have wanted Petke gone if they didn’t care. If the team is mid table or worse come July, expect TWO big names to come to Harrison and change the completion of the team. If they are gelling, winning games, and a team the league hates to play against, maybe we’ll get another DP but it won’t be such a big name.
Prediction: The Red Bulls won’t struggle as much as they to start 2015 as they did in 2014. Marsch will somehow get his team to gel and fast. His backline will be known for a blunder or two but one of the young bloods (Miazga, AJB, Ouimette) who cement their place next to Zubar will be hailed as a hero. RBNY wins both home derby games against the team on the other side of the Hudson. RBNY wins the Open Cup, finishes third or fourth in the east and once again loses to the NE Revolution in the Eastern Conference Finals.
(image courtesy of New York Red Bulls)