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SBI MLS Season Preview: New York Red Bulls


Photo by Howard C. Smith/


The New York Red Bulls entered 2011 a clear contender for the MLS Cup, and it showed. 

"We started very well," coach Hans Backe said. "Seven games, we were flying; perfect defense, attacking wise – very good. Then, in between for a couple of months, we didn’t pick up the results."

That is putting it mildly. 

A dominating 4-1-2 record gave way to a 6-7-14 season that saw New York forfeit the U.S. Open Cup, go through two Designated Players, get decimated by injuries and international call-ups and have locker room tensions go public. The Red Bulls briefly breathed life back into their campaign before ultimately finishing off where they did the year before — ousted in the conference semifinals.

Months have passed allowing tensions to ease and roster issues to be addressed. Though reinforced and deeper than in years past, the Red Bulls are far from a finished product.

"We need to do changes," Backe said. "We definitely need to get more physical strength into the team. We need goals from central midfield; it has been zero. We need goals from centerbacks on set plays; it has been zero this year. We have conceded too many goals from set plays, unforced errors, individual mistakes. That's too much."

Here's a closer look at the Red Bulls ahead of the 2012 MLS season:


2011 FINISH: 10-8-16, 46 points (fifth in the Eastern Conference)

KEY ACQUISITIONS: D/M Jonathan Borrajo, D Wilman Conde, F Kenny Cooper, D Markus Holgersson, D Connor Lade, GK Ryan Meara, M Victor Palsson, GK Jeremy Vuolo, F Jose Angulo, F Jhonny Arteaga

KEY LOSSES: D Chris Albright, M Stephane Auvray, GK Bouna Coundoul, D Carlos Mendes, D Tim Ream, GK Frank Rost

In restructuring the team for the 2012 campaign, New York bucked the trend of years past by keeping the majority of their starting XI intact. The team retained midfielder Joel Lindpere with a new contract, securing perhaps one of the most lethal wing combinations in the league alongside the speedy Dane Richards. Defensive bookends Roy Miller and Jan Gunnar Solli are back for another season to shore up a new-look backline. Teemu Tainio and Rafa Marquez will be sharing midfield responsibilities once again, while Thierry Henry leads the team from the front line.

With their core in place, the Red Bulls looked to bring in more physicality and depth. Tim Ream’s departure made room for Backe to model the Red Bulls backline into the physical unit he felt was imperative to succeed in MLS. To that end, Markus Holgersson and Wilman Conde were acquired, bringing added size and strength to the side. The towering duo will be expected to shore up the team’s leaky backline and set piece defending while adding needed size on corner kick situations (Red Bull defenders failed to score a single goal all of last season).

Of course, the signings are not without risk, particularly in the case of Conde. The former MLS Best Xi defender hasn’t played professional minutes in nearly a year after suffering an injury to his left foot that required surgery. He recently began his comeback, featuring in limited minutes this offseason.  Nevertheless, he fell back on the injured list after picking up a thigh strain that will see him miss, at the very least, the season opener.

With Frank Rost’s retirement, New York has entrusted their fortunes in goal to rookie Ryan Meara and second year pro Jeremy Vuolo. Backe has said he will use the first month of the season to evaluate his keeper situation before he dips into the market for veteran options. For their part, both keepers have shown well during the preseason, but New York is certainly taking a risk entrusting its last line of defensive to a pair of unproven commodities.

The midfield has been reinforced by the addition of a feisty Victor Palsson. He and Dax McCarty will be fighting for minutes and filling in time between the Tainio/Maquez duo. Homegrown player Connor Lade, recently labeled a "sensation" by Backe, will add much needed depth and coverage on the left, while fellow Academy alumnus Jonathan Borrajo provides the same on the right.

Up top, New York has added size and skill in Kenny Cooper, who will join a crowded pool already featuring Thierry Henry, Juan Agudelo and Corey Hertzog. Luke Rodgers' status remains in limbo while he awaits visa clearance, and he is perhaps the most needed striker on the team. Rodgers proved not only to be the perfect pair to the team captain, but also a catalyst for the team. In his 20 appearances last year, New York boasted a 9-4-7 record. Without him, they only achieved a single victory.

Yes, New York has done much to address their roster issues, and the club has acquired players who can very well shore up their starting needs, but many questions continue to surround this side as they face the coming campaign. Nevertheless, in the face of these uncertainties, Backe remains optimistic. 

"I think we should have high expectations; it’s realistic, definitely," Backe said. "We have a roster definitely this year with a much better depth comparing to 2011." 

Whether that depth translates to trophies remains to be seen.


  1. Yes, because Metromedia were such great owners!!!!

    Give it a rest!

    You probably say things like “pitch” & “footy.”

    Just get over yourself.

  2. As an outsider, I see a lot of strength on the frontline and touchline, but questionable personnel making up the spine of the team.: unless the team has an unquestionable GK, CB and central midfielder orchestrating the attack it seems like a house of cards.

    As a Philly fan I actually want strong NY CD and NE to make the east a legitimate place to play.

  3. I dunno if that’s accurate. I mean, if ownership is essentially disinterested and that has been ongoing it’s a pretty valid source of frustration. Same can be said of NE Revs.

  4. Did you go to a RB game last year? 10K was not far off on many nights….despite the funds and big names. Maybe 15k for the galaxy or playoff. Everyone saying sales are weak again this year. Winning starts from the top – if management has no clue, the product will look like it does right now…

  5. We still haven’t done enough. We need young, exciting wing play, and right now it’s just not there… Dane Richards is not good enough, and if Lindpere ends up playing in the middle, then we have nobody on the left… I like the Conde pickup, Kenny Cooper scares me b/c the guy is such a ballhog. They still have a lot of work to do.

  6. When someone complains about negativity it is a legitimate complaint if not proffered as a critique. However when all criticism is called negativity, then the person is asking for everybody to be a cheerleader.

  7. Whether it’s the FO or Backe, the wheels came off as last year progressed and the team is less than the sum of its(expensive) parts.

    My two cents, Agudelo should be used more on the wing like Shea or Altidore when a NYer. I would say on talent scouting they have done OK but by importing so many players they have to be right on many many more than everyone else, who may very well be content acquiring a known MLS quantity. So even if they get Lindpere and Henry right they can mess themselves over by missing it on Rost and Marquez.

    And I still think they’re missing the boat on defense and GK because it doesn’t seem to be a priority even when it costs them on an annual basis.

  8. Bravo, Pete, I feel the same way. No developing, scouting or even playing young players. Somehow they have decided to become the Yankees of MLS. The management are dream killers if you ask me. If my kid played soccer would hate for them to develop at RB.

    Plus their on cession at the RBA is painfully slow. Not waiting for $$ there until some changes.

    Just being honest.

  9. You want to say Backe isn’t a nice guy. I met him, I didn’t like like, I agree with you. You want to say he doesn’t care about developing American talent, I agree. You want to say he’s a bad coach, I disagree. He finished first in the East 2 years ago and got to semi-finals of playoffs last year.

    Granted Redbulls budget is 15 mill, but thats because of two players. If they were able to spread it around it would make a much bigger difference. Thats why, besides LA, teams with DP’s havent done that well.

  10. I am generally pretty positive, but I’ve lost faith in my NYRB after last year’s debacle. Too many inexplicably poor decisions (DeRo for McCarty) and players that are impossible to root for (Marquez), while the guy that I really want to see is somehow buried on the bench (Adudelo).

  11. I’m normally not one for negativity, but I find very little to like about what Soler and Backe have done in the offseason. There’s still a big gaping hole for an attacking center midfielder that can link up play. Als, while we’ve gotten bigger, I’m not sure we’ve added quality. I think this guy Holgersson will leave us yearning for Tim Ream to return. The only offseason move that I fully supported was retaining Lindpere’s services. Apart from that, there’s really very little to like. This team did not get better; it may have gotten worse.

  12. No, but I wouldn’t mind seeing new faces heading up NYRB. Soler and Backe don’t seem to have any plan or ability to evaluate talent. They don’t seem to have any rhyme or reason. They immediately get rid of DeRo for Dax McCarty yet Marquez gets chance after chance despite the fact he is obviously a cancer on this team. Then they sign guys who were great in 2009 (Conde, Cooper) and seem to be depending on them to turn back the clock instead of trying to draft or develop (Agudelo) players. I just don’t get what their plan is and I’ve seen too many COMPLETELY inexplicable moves to trust them anymore.

  13. Just tired of this team. It’ not the players but the organization or lack of it that has left me less than enthusiastic. As long as Soler and Backe remain at the helm, I will not step foot into RB arena.

  14. Agree. Soler/Backe are a circus act, this is IK Start all over again. Thank goodness there is not relegation in MLS (or maybe we should wish for that, might put pressure on owners to at least pay attention to this train wreck). Can you imagine if other teams (exception of LA) had anything close to the budget Soler/Backe are playing with?

  15. The issue I see is defense was the problem last year and you lost Ream and replaced him with Conde, who may be damaged goods. The GK situation is also, behind the flurry of activity there, deteriorating in terms of actual quality. If NY wants to compete they need to ditch Marquez and improve the defense, have fewer 3-3, 4-2, 2-2, 3-1 type Eredivisie scores. If they do that they have the firepower going the other way to win plenty of games.

  16. Look, we have TT, Cooper, Agudelo up top for now…pretty good. Our midfield, although aging, is as solid as it comes but I would not mind seeing some goals come from there either. Having said that, Marquez and Tainio aren’t the likely candidates to do so. Our defense will be a question. If Holgerson and Conde, (when healthy), can team up well then I believe we will be fine there. Looks like Connor Ladde made an impression and could push Miller at left back, perhaps. Are we the Galaxy right now? No, but we are certainly not Montreal, Revs, TFC, etc. Playoffs yes. Beyond? We shall see!!

  17. Underachievers. Not enough defense. etc. It’s a better-attended and -funded team since RB got involved so complaining about that is myopic and misguided. Would you really rather have the Metros back? Be playing in a football stadium? Have 10K people showing up?

  18. Don’t be surprised if Backe benches him as punishment for being good enough to play for the Olympic team. Hans is not above sitting people out of personal spite.

  19. Yes, seen Richards every year he’s been with the team. Has he improved more than his younger days? Sure, but he still has the same bad tendencies and limited repertoire. He needs acres of space to be effective. He’s good for the occasional spectacular blast or surging run, but not enough to be an unquestionable starter.

  20. Fear not kpugs, for Michael Ballack is sure to come for a big payday and a promise of being able to play like a retiree

  21. bizarre goalkeeping decision but if their centerbacks work out they should be pretty good. also if marquez doesn’t destroy team morale.

    agudelo better play more this year (when he’s not at the olympics). he is definitely good enough to play more than last year.

  22. Did you watch Richards much lately? Early in his career I agree, but feel his game has expanded a fair amount where he can do much more now. I don’t mind Dax, my issues are 1) hoping Rodgers returns 2) hoping inexperienced keepers can make happen and 3) hoping Rafa Marquez is used correctly as a spare assistant coach, a la Carl Robinson

  23. The coach complained about getting zero goals from central midfield.


    You want me to spin that into a positive?

  24. Negativity is just appropriate for this team / management. There’s nothing here that indicates that they’ll be any better than last year, maybe worse.

    If it wasn’t for guardrails, Richards might just dribble with his head down straight out of the stadium. Miller’s decision-making is foul and he still secretly wishes he was a forward. McCarty is a nugget. And these are statements beyond the painfully obvious (Backe, Marquez, etc.)

    I’d love to eat my words, just don’t see it happening with this squad.

  25. I think the team will make the playoffs but I just wondered if they are deeper in defense and in goal; that’s all.

    I like the dimension that Luke added to the team so I hope his visa issue gets resolved; that was a great addition by Backe.

  26. The negativity on these sites never ceases to amaze me. Guys, we have a good squad with some nice stars and solid midfielders. We will definitely make the playoffs and by then we will know what kind of fight we have to challenge for the Cup. Let’s not get down on a team before First Kick. Opinions are one thing but negativity pervades everything.


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