The New York Red Bulls have a lot of pressure heading into the 2010 season.
They have the pressure of playing well enough to fill their beautiful new stadium, as well as the pressure of erasing the bad memories of an awful 2009 season. A new coach and a new crop of players has enjoyed a good pre-season, giving the club some reason for optimism.
Hans Backe takes over as head coach and his vast experience in Europe is already showing signs of making a positive impact on a team in disarray last year. With upgrades at several position, the Red Bulls look poised to challenge for a playoff spot in the East.
Here is a look at the 2010 New York Red Bulls:
2010 NEW YORK RED BULLS
Players to Watch– Juan Pablo Angel, Mac Kandji, Jeremy Hall, Dane Richards, Mike Petke
Key Arrivals– Joel Lindpere, Roy Miller, Tim Ream, Tony Tchani, Carl Robinson
Key Departures– Albert Celades, Danny Cepero, Carlos Johnson, Jorge Rojas
Projected Lineup (New starters in bold)
——————-Juan Pablo Angel———Mac Kandji——————–
Sinisa Ubiparipovic——–Joel Lindpere—————Dane Richards
Roy Miller——–Tim Ream ————Mike Petke——–Jeremy Hall
Biggest Question– Will Tony Tchani be an impact player in his rookie season? Tchani has bags of talent, but is still young and developing. The Red Bulls would love to have him develop into a lock starter because it could allow them to move Lindpere into a left wing role.
Left wing remains a wide open position. Sinisa Ubiparipovic isn't a natural left winger, but has been used there in pre-season. If Tchani is slow to develop, the Red Bulls could consider some help via trade.
The real 'Biggest Question' remains "Will the Red Bulls sign a marquee Designated Player this summer?" If they do, they immediately become a strong playoff contender. Without one, they are on the fringes of the playoff race.
X-Factor– Tim Ream. The rookie centerback has been the talk of the pre-season, and for good reason. He boasts good size, athleticism and most importantly, great feet. His passing out of the back, combined with his poise, making him an MLS rookie of the year candidate and lock starter heading into the season.
Outlook– Strong pre-seasons can often be fool's gold (as any Red Bulls fan can attest to after last year's pre-season) but there are signs that Hans Backe has implemented some effective changes and the club has brought in a good crop of newcomers to help.
Joel Lindpere, Roy Miller and Tim Ream look to be quality additions, but that may not be quite enough to qualify for the playoffs. A summer-time DP signing is needed for the Red Bulls to be a serious playoff threat, but the team's new stadium should give the club a home-field advantage they've never had before.
Without a second DP, the Red Bulls are likely to fall short in their race for the playoffs, but the addition of a second Designated Player could provide the missing ingredient to help the Red Bulls finish in the Top Eight.