The New York Red Bulls suffered an early exit yet again in the MLS Playoffs. What voids will they need to fill in the offseason to compete again in 2019?
After suffering a 3-1 aggregate loss to Atlanta United, it is clear that the New York Red Bulls must make changes to solve their playoff pain. Fans might look at this Red Bulls team and think that the defense should be tweaked, especially after conceding three in a first-leg thrashing.
Not so fast.
The team has a strong core at the back, building off Luis Robles. He’ll turn 35 next May but hasn’t looked like slowing down any time soon. The way he commands and organizes the field, in addition to his ability to make saves to bail the team out, there is no reason to think that the Red Bulls number one will be any different at the start of next season.
Moving up the field, the Red Bulls back four should be set for 2019 as well. Of Michael Murillo, Tim Parker, Aaron Long and Kemar Lawrence, none is over 26 years old. After the four solidified as the routine back four, they aided the team in giving up a league-leading 33 goals.
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The biggest challenge for the Red Bulls backline will be staying healthy. Kemar Lawrence’s absence proved a major factor in the first leg against Atlanta.
What will also help the Red Bulls in defensive depth will be the return of promising outside back Kyle Duncan. Duncan, 20, showed great promise early on in the season before tearing his ACL early in April. Assuming Duncan recovers and his development continues on schedule, the Red Bulls will have three exciting outside backs with great speed and a knack for marauding runs down the flanks.
The midfield, not the defense, is where the trouble lies for the Red Bulls. The team will likely need to replace their powerhouse midfielder Tyler Adams, who seemed to cover every blade of grass every time he stepped onto the field for RBNY. It has been widely reported that Adams will move to Red Bull Leipzig and reunite with former coach Jesse Marsch.
Adams’ pure desire to be involved in every happening on the field, offensive or defensive, is not easily replaceable. If Adams does end up leaving, the Red Bulls midfield might struggle in the early parts of next season while the two new defensive midfielders — assuming Chris Armas keeps the formation the same — establish a new partnership.
Unless the Red Bulls bring in an experienced defensive midfielder, the pressure will be on for Sean Davis to control the midfield. He will be looked upon to anchor down the midfield. Davis has shown that he can go forward while also being able to stick his foot in for a tackle, but Adams is a unique talent.
The departure of Adams will be the biggest void that the Red Bulls will need to fill this offseason.
In the attacking third of the field, the Red Bulls have their playmaker with Kaku, who proved in 2018 that he was worth every ounce of effort that the club put in to bring the Paraguayan International to New Jersey.
He dished out 14 assists and chipped in six goals to give life to the Red Bulls’ attack. After the club traded Sacha Kljestan, Kaku filled a needed hole in the attacking third and should be their primary creator again next season.
Despite Kaku’s return, however, the Red Bulls should add a few names in their attack. Marc Rzatkowski, who came alive in the second half of the season under Armas, is on a loan that is set to expire now with the season concluded. He’s a crafty left-footed player that played a vital role in the Red Bulls success on set pieces.
Whether the Red Bulls look in-house for attacking replacements or not remains to be seen, but they do have some options to bolster their attack within their system already.
Ben Mines scored on his debut last year and looked to be yet another rising player to come out of the Red Bull Academy, before a season-ending injury. Once Mines is healthy, don’t be surprised if he starts to see incremental rises in playing time next season.
Bradley Wright-Phillips will be turning 34 next season, but still had a 20-goal season this year. With a playmaker like Kaku giving him service, it’s hard to see Wright-Phillips not hovering around 20 goals next season again.
With significant departures, the New York Red Bulls will need to make moves as well as continue to develop young players in order to come back as a force in the Eastern Conference in 2019. There is much to be done to avoid the playoff pain of the past and present.