New York Red Bulls: 2019 a big season for Sean Davis

HARRISON, NEW JERSEY- March 10: Sean Davis
HARRISON, NEW JERSEY- March 10: Sean Davis /

With the departure of Tyler Adams to RB Leipzig, Sean Davis will be asked to step up in a big way for the New York Red Bulls, both as a player and a leader. 2019 is a huge year for the 25-year-old.

Tyler Adams was the cornerstone piece of the New York Red Bulls midfield, the heart and soul of the best regular-season team in the history of MLS.

But with the departure of Adams to RB Leipzig, barring any moves to bring in an experienced central midfielder, it will now be on New Jersey native Sean Davis to take up Adams’ mantle and anchor the midfield for the Red Bulls in 2019.

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Since being signed as a homegrown player, Davis has come miles from when he saw his first appearances in 2015, a year in which he made four starts in just 14 appearances. Each year, he has seen an increase in games played and games started, showing that former head coach Jesse Marsch and current coach Chris Armas have a lot of faith in Davis.

Davis’ growth has surely been aided by the presence of veterans like Dax McCarty, for the first stages of his career, and then getting to play alongside a savvy veteran like Felipe Martins. Over the past two seasons with the growth of Adams, however, he and Davis fortified a strong partnership with Adams’ IQ on the field making up for his lack of experience.

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Adams, though, is now gone, and the New York Red Bulls midfield needs a new leader. While Davis’ role on the field in terms of play might not be changing, he might now be given more responsibility between the white lines.

Davis has an important 2019 forthcoming because he will be the veteran presence in the midfield. Armas has shown a willingness to experiment with new formations, but the default for RBNY has been a 4-2-3-1, where the partnership between the two defensive midfielders is vital for organizational purposes.

With a young player like 18-year-old Cristian Casseres in a strong position to find a spot in the Red Bulls line-up in 2018, Davis, who is still only 25, will be the veteran in the midfield and the player responsible with making sure the whole team takes shape. That is quite the challenge. The Red Bulls do also have Jean-Christophe Koffi on the roster, another young inexperienced box-to-box midfielder, that can be helped with a few appearances alongside the experienced Davis. But in terms of veteran presence, Davis is the really the only one.

Thankfully, he is an incredibly cerebral player, who always seems to find himself in space in and around the box. He has a knack for joining attacks late when opposing defenses seem to have forgotten about him, lurking a few yards behind, and has shown great tactical nous in his positional sense and awareness.

The ability to join the attack certainly showed in 2018, when Davis registered a career-high eight assists. With a playmaker like Kaku, who garners so much attention from opposing defenses, a player further back such as Davis who can break lines with key passes will only help the Red Bulls going forward.

Unless they plan to significantly change positions, the Red Bulls chose not to address the middle of the park in the draft. The club traded up to draft a center-back in Richard Boateng, two players who they plan to convert to wingbacks with Janos Loebe and Rece Buckmaster, and another center-back, Sean Nealis.

In just a few short seasons, Davis’ role has been completely flipped from a young homegrown product being eased along in his development to seasoned veteran with a fair amount of pressure to anchor the midfield.

Even if sporting director Denis Hamlett did decide to make any moves for a more experienced central midfielder to play alongside Davis, any player acquired would not be one who understands the Red Bulls’ system and Armas’ coaching nuances. Davis is the player who knows how to set up the midfield in Armas’ press and how to recover when the game becomes stretched. Even Bastian Schweinsteiger would take time to adapt.

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In a midfield that will most likely see a few changes in hopes of figuring out the best way of trying to make up for Adams departure, Sean Davis will be the one constant in the Red Bulls’ midfield. It is a huge 2019 for the man on which the midfield now rests.