Mar 5, 2014, 9:38 PM EST
Whenever a team reaches new heights, the next year is defined by whether it falls back to earth. For the New York Red Bulls, 2013 featured unprecedented heights, with the club claiming its first major honor: the Supporters’ Shield. Now, with Mike Petke entering his second season on the sidelines, the question is whether the team can offset a series of indicators that hint they’ll decline.
The big one is age. Thierry Henry, who took a small step back last year, is staring at the grind of a Major League Soccer season as a 36-year-old. Tim Cahill, so crucial to the team’s surge to first in the East, is now 34. Jamison Olave, indispensable at the back, turns 33 in April. If any of these veterans slip, New York may not have enough to hold of Sporting Kansas City. If they fall flat, the Red Bulls may have to completely rethink how they approach the 2014 season.
Right now, three days away from the team’s season opener in Vancouver, a team that eschewed changes in the offseason looks primed to compete for another Shield. Spanish important Armando has joined former Toronto FC fullback Richard Eckersley as reinforcements at the back. A midfield built on the ethic of Dax McCarty, Eric Alexander, and Jonny Steele is capable of out-working most teams – effort that will create chances for Cahill and Henry.
It’s a formula that worked in 2013. Short of another contender surging past the field, it’s one that should allow New York to compete in 2014. Though another year on some worn wheels means there’s an increased chance of a blowout, the Red Bulls could also roll to another successful season.
Players in: Armando (signed, Cordoba (Spain)), Bobby Convey (trade, Toronto), Richard Eckersley (trade, Toronto)
Players out: Brandon Barklage (option declined, San Jose), Fabian Espindola (re-entry draft, D.C. United), Markus Holgersson (contract terminated), Rafhinha (released), Amando Moreno (signed in Mexico), David Carney (signed in Australia)
Key Player: Eckersley. Miller. Armando. On paper, New York’s defensive doesn’t seem too impressive, but if you add Jamison Olave’s name to the mix, all of a sudden the back line looks workable. With a center back capable of playing like one of the league’s best over long stretches of time, Olave is capable of raising the level of over an otherwise unspectacular group.
Henry and Cahill grab the headlines, and they are undeniably important pieces, but if Jamison Olave doesn’t give another borderline Best XI performance, it’s difficult to see this defense holding up. He is as “key” as either of his more famous teammates.
Manager: Mike Petke’s 2013 success earned him Coach of the Year votes, carving a place for him among a growing class of young, recently ex-MLS players who are making an impact on the sidelines. Relying almost exclusively a conventional 4-4-2 formation, Petke opted for simplicity over sophistication. In the process, he did what good coaches do best: Give his most influential players a platform to succeed.
Even amid a drop of in production from Henry (2012: 15 goals, 12 assists; 2013: 10 and 9), Petke produced historic results. If he can keep his team focused and humble, Petke should be able to maintain his 2013 results, even if that doesn’t necessarily mean another Supporters’ Shield.
Outlook: Given how Sporting Kansas City finished the season (raising MLS Cup), it’s difficult to call New York favorites in the East, and with Toronto FC assembling a sold (and star-studded) lineup up north, the conference looks more competitive than last season. Whereas last season saw New York and Kansas City fight it out (after a fade from Montréal), this year the Reds and Houston could also factor into the equation.
But in a managerial world where coaches prefer to focus on their own teams, Petke has is own internal obstacles. The threat of further regression from Henry is real, and with Cahill set to miss a large chunk of the season at the World Cup, the team could find itself short on scoring options. If Olave starts experiencing some of the same injury concerns that defined his last years in Salt Lake, New York suddenly looks like a candidate to collapse.
That would require a lot of ifs to fall in line; then again, when things go south, the negatives often start complementing each other (see San Jose, 2013). New York is capable of competing near the top of the East once more, but in 2014, Petke’s likely to see a new set of problems.
Jan 28, 2015, 7:03 PM EST
Maybe Sunderland just doesn’t know how to use its forwards.
Jan 28, 2015, 6:54 PM EST
It was sloppy at times, with the States very much getting used to the 3-5-2 and both sides using a bevy of second-choice players.
Jan 28, 2015, 6:48 PM EST
Brek Shea’s first USMNT goal in a year and a half was a pretty nice finish.
Jan 28, 2015, 5:45 PM EST
Arda Turan was fouled, losing his shoe in the process. Since the linesman didn’t deem the offense worthy of a foul, Turan had one recourse.
Jan 28, 2015, 5:00 PM EST
Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando is between the sticks for the States, and Jermaine Jones continues his time as a center back.
Jan 28, 2015, 4:52 PM EST
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Jan 28, 2015, 3:57 PM EST
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Jan 28, 2015, 3:01 PM EST
Huge trade now makes sense as Kljestan arrives in MLS.
Jan 28, 2015, 2:39 PM EST
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Jan 28, 2015, 2:00 PM EST
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Jan 28, 2015, 1:10 PM EST
Wenger get’s his man as Arsenal’s new center back has finally arrived.
Jan 28, 2015, 12:28 PM EST
Costa could miss Chelsea’s massive clash against Man City on Saturday. All the details, here.
Jan 28, 2015, 11:47 AM EST
Chelsea’s injury problems are piling up ahead of their huge tilt against City this Saturday.
Jan 28, 2015, 10:36 AM EST
After seeing red, Ronaldo will now miss Real’s next two games after ban for violent conduct.
Jan 28, 2015, 10:10 AM EST
Is Figo the man to take charge of world’s soccer’s governing body?
Jan 28, 2015, 9:25 AM EST
Super Bowl week brings out two NFL players for the latest podcast.
Jan 28, 2015, 9:01 AM EST
Michael Oliver, it’s over to you…
Jan 28, 2015, 7:55 AM EST
Bale tells Spanish radio station that he’s hanging around in the Spanish capital for some time to come.
Jan 27, 2015, 11:01 PM EST
Already it feels like Montreal has a major chance to be the winner in this deal, and that’s before they do anything with the allocation money.
Jan 27, 2015, 10:05 PM EST
It certainly wasn’t the wildest of days for the transfer rumor mill, but Manchester United, Southampton and Crystal Palace all said hello.
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