By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Jan 3, 2022) US Soccer Players – A new year begins, and with it, increased pressure on teams across Major League Soccer. February 26 is the earliest start ever in MLS. That means moving up all the timetables for how clubs build and prepare their squads for the season. For the New York Red Bulls, it’s a new problem they need to solve as the regular season looms. With that other team across the river defending its MLS Cup, what can the Red Bulls do to keep pace in North America’sAmerica’s biggest market?
NYCFC’s success may not be the Red Bulls’Bulls’ failure, but it’s certainly a motivator in how the team addresses the upcoming season. They have plenty of templates for how to build quickly in the contemporary version of this league. NYCFC’s winning blueprint with a focus on young South American talent is certainly one. So is spending money on a high-profile designated player, a throwback to an earlier era.
Meanwhile, the standard attrition and MLS embracing the identity of a selling league could change things across the Eastern Conference. NYCFC has its own revamp to consider now that players such as Taty Castellanos and James Sands will “almost certainly depart” that leaves “two gigantic holes to fill,” according to MLSSoccer.com. Castellanos was this past season’s Golden Boot winner as league top scorer with 19 goals, while Sands, a defender, was also key this season.
The Red Bulls, meanwhile, have retained coach Gerhard Struber, who guided them to a 7th-place finish last season. That was good enough for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. In doing so, the team avoided missing the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2009. Making the playoffs is no longer good enough for any ambitious team in MLS.
The Red Bulls have been a developer of talent in recent years. Defenders Matt Miazga and Tyler Adams are two examples. Miazga now plays for Alaves in Spain after leaving the club in 2016 for Chelsea, just three years after making his MLS debut and only becoming a regular in his final season at Red Bull Arena. After four years in the league, Adams went on to play for RBNY’sRBNY’s parent club RB Leipzig in Germany, where he continues to be one of the many Americans who now start in Europe. Adams got two seasons as a regular in the New York lineup.
The steady exodus of players over the years has drawn the ire of fans. This past summer, following a less-than-buzzworthy transfer period, many bemoaned the team’s lack of spending and their selling off of players to European clubs. The departure of midfielder Caden Clark, after just one season, to RB Leipzig was proof that the Red Bulls Homegrown system works. Still, how can New York ever become a contender when their young talent leaves so quickly?
While NYCFC’s title creates enormous pressure on the Red Bulls to revamp, it also underlines that question of how. It’sIt’s not hyperbole to say this could very well be the most important off-season in team history. The Red Bulls need reinforcements all over the field and have already started to put together some pieces.
The team recently completed the transfer of 24-year-old Brazilian goalkeeper Carlos Coronel from Red Bull Salzburg, signing him to a three-year contract. Coronel was on loan to RBNY in 2021, leading the league in clean sheets with 13.
“Carlos was a big part of our success last season and we are delighted to extend his stay with us,” said the team’s head of sport Kevin Thelwell. “Finishing as one of the top goalkeepers last season made it an easy decision for us to bring him back.”
Within MLS, the team has found players it hopes will add some security to a backline that last season surrendered 33 goals in 34 regular season games. The acquisition of right back Dylan Nealis from Nashville SC came following the exchange for $125,000 in General Allocation Money and an additional $75,000.
The 23-year-old Nealis played the past two seasons in MLS, first with Inter Miami CF in 2020 and with Nashville SC this past season. Drafted third overall in 2020 MLS SuperDraft, Nealis has gained some valuable experience and remains young enough to build a backline around. He can also provide long balls from the back, something the Red Bulls employed last season. When USMNT player Aaron Long returns from injury, the Red Bulls could have an impressive defense.
Up front, the team has signed Scottish attacking midfielder Lewis Morgan from Inter Miami CF, a player meant to fill the Clark role, in exchange for $1.2 million in GAM over two years. Morgan, 25, scored seven goals and had 12 assists in 57 games over two seasons in Miami. He should create a formidable duo with captain Sean Davis in the Red Bulls’ 3-4-2-1 system.
Once again, the team will rely on a homegrown player after signing US Under-20 midfielder Daniel Edelman. The 18-year-old, who played with Red Bulls II last season, is a player that Struber called in a Dec. 17 news release “a top prospect at the midfield position.”
“He is an aggressive central defensive midfielder that can do well in our system,” Struber added. “His ability to defend and get forward are key attributes for his position.”
For now, the Red Bulls remain a young team. The strategy seems to be laser-focused on youth and assembling players who have had prior MLS experience. Gone, it appears, is a move to bring in a veteran European player. NYCFC has set forth a blueprint for success. The Red Bulls could be copying it, hoping to finally deliver a title across the Hudson River.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2018.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- The changing market for Brazilian players in Major League Soccer
- MLS retirements in 2021
- The 2021 MLS season in review
- Preview: The 2021 MLS Cup final
Photo by Mike Lawrence – ISIPhotos.com