Tuesday, February 17, 2015

New York Red Bulls 2015 Season Preview: Does Drama Central Quiet Down?

Whither Dear Henry? Whither belov'd Petke?
What Happened Last Year
It sucks to admit it, but, yes, for the New York Red Bulls, 2014 was the Year of Thierry Henry. Speculation as to whether he would retire after the season was flat-out insane for the second half of it. Henry justified a lot of that hype and hand-wringing by turning in what can only be applauded as pivotal play on the field. From all of that, however, I admired nothing so much as this 37-year-old man's yeoman work in the second leg of their playoff series against the New England Revolution. Even more badass? His short, sharp answer as to whether he would play on New England's turf for that second leg. The man earned his accolades. Red Bull proved to be the big club they strove to be for a couple other reasons last season: Bradley Wright-Phillips near-miss on breaking the single-season scoring record sucked up plenty of ink; in a nice touch for the domestic soccer press, so did the quietly effective midfield pairing of Dax McCarty and Eric Alexander. It was a little tempting to run with that mildly anonymous element, but New York (let's use that name loosely while we still can) still had some bright light, big names last season in Jamison Olave and Tim Cahill. Then again, it speaks to something else that one of these players logged major minutes by year's end, while another did not. Red Bull accomplished what it did in 2014 through a pretty clear-headed brand of pragmatism. And one guy, in particular, had a lot to do with that.
Final Stats: 13-10-11, 50 pts, 4th in the East; 55 gf, 50 ga

What's Happened Since
An end to pragmatism for one. Also, a wholesale discarding of high-profile designated players (DPs). To say Red Bull went through some changes between 2014 and 2015 amounts to dismissing a tornado warning as the thing tears through one's kitchen. The Mike Petke firing was, quite possibly, the biggest shit-storm in MLS history (wait for it...a strike now would top it). That said, the transition to a lighter DP load changes the club quite a bit as well – i.e. lose Henry, Olave, and, his 2014 production notwithstanding, Cahill in a single off-season and your club has some serious work to do. So, what has Red Bull done? Well, their biggest off-season coup has to be signing Sacha Kljestan, for whom, let the record show, I'm more or less a complete whore. This being New York – e.g. Drama Central - the trade that paved the road for Kljestan's arrival rankled a bundle of feathers: Alexander had proved himself (to the notice of too few), but the ensuing, messy parting of Ambroise Oyongo somehow struck deeper at the time. New York picked up Felipe Martins going the other way and, for what it's worth, I like that pick-upgiven Peguy Luyindula's Henry-esque age. They have some depth pick-ups besides – see: Baptiste, Andrew-Jean, the re-signing of Damien Fontane...Perrinelle, and the weird, wily acquisition of Leo Stolz. Say what you will, but this is not a club that does things by half.

What to Expect This Year
New York ranked highly as they did on the list of clubs that interest me because, more than most MLS clubs, they can break either way in 2015. Henry is a massive loss, without question, but a player with that level of gravity, no matter how wholly justified, dictates how you play the game. It's possible the Mighty Frenchman's departure frees the club to attack through more channels (though it's not like New York did horribly attacking down Sam's right). Personally, I have high hopes for a...how does this work, getting McCarty, Kljestan and Felipe onto the field all at once? Does this require a 3-5-2 with….surely not Stolz as an anchor d-mid? The point is, New York has a highly intriguing season ahead, even if not for the right reasons. That said, I'm sure of two things: 1) Wright-Phillips will not (by his own admission) push to break the record again; 2) what continuity they have will buy their success in 2015. I can’t believe I got this far into a preview of Red Bull without saying either "Luis" or "Robles," but I rate the shit out of that goalkeeper.

Red Bull has good parts. I even rate most of the new guys. They also have chaos. So, why the hell is Ali Curtis on a one-year contract?

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