2012 New York Red Bulls Preview: Sights set on Cup

MLSsoccer.com is previewing each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2011 and ending with the league's newest addition, the Montreal Impact. This is part one of two previewing New York's 2012 season. You can find Part 2 here.

Setting the Scene

Last year was supposed to be the year for the New York Red Bulls. Boasting a roster loaded with talented players like Thierry Henry and Rafa Márquez, the Red Bulls had dreams of lifting the MLS Cup trophy for the first time in club history.

WATCH: Hans Backe 1 on 1

Unfortunately for them, what transpired was more nightmare than dream. The Red Bulls endured a frustrating 2011 season that had plenty of bumps both on and off the field. The team struggled to win games consistently, and the attitude in the locker room was so negative that head coach Hans Backe called it the messiest he had been involved with in his more than 30 years of coaching.

Looking to put last year behind them, Backe and most of last year’s starters have returned. From Henry and Márquez to Joel Lindpere and Dane Richards, the Red Bulls still have the talent to be the top team in the Eastern Conference and a serious contender for the MLS Cup.

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In and Out

IN: D Connor Lade (12/5: Home Grown); D Jonathan Borrajo (1/5: free/Hamarkameratene); D Markus Holgersson (1/12: free/Helsingborg); F Kenny Cooper (1/12: trade from Portland); G Ryan Meara (1/12: SuperDraft); D Mike Volk (1/17: supplemental draft); M Christian Barreiro (1/17: supplemental draft); M Nate Polak (1/17: supplemental draft); G Jeremy Vuolo (1/25: free/AC Oulu); D Wilman Conde (1/30: rights from Chicago); M Victor Pálsson (2/10: free)

OUT:Alex Horwath (11/23: waived); D Mychal Jones (11/23: waived); D Tyler Lassiter (11/23: waived); M Marcos Paullo (11/23: waived); M John Rooney (11/23: waived); D Teddy Schneider (11/23: waived); G Frank Rost (11/23: contract expired); D Carlos Mendes (Re-Entry Stage 1/Columbus); D Chris Albright (12/12: option declined); G Bouna Coundoul (12/12: option declined); D Tim Ream (1/26: transfer/Bolton Wanderers); D Sacir Hot (2/17: waived); M Matt Kassel (2/17: waived)

READ: 2012 New York Red Bulls Depth Chart


 

Star Attraction: Thierry Henry

Henry should be feeling good after a productive short-term loan with Arsenal, and that boost in confidence is likely to have Henry closer to top form when the season kicks off. As a Designated Player and the Red Bulls captain, Henry will need to shoulder much of the goal-scoring load while also helping the club repair a locker room that was in shambles in 2011.

READ: Henry returns, but Red Bulls finish scoreless with Pumas

Unsung Hero: Joel Lindpere

Lindpere (pictured right) is Mr. Consistent as far as the Red Bulls go. Last year he started in all 34 league games for the club, scored seven goals and added seven assists. All of those numbers were career bests in MLS for the crafty Estonian, and another season like that is expected, especially since he just signed a new contract that will keep him in New York for the foreseeable future.

Ready for Primetime: Ryan Meara

With the Red Bulls so far failing in their quest to land an experienced goalkeeper, Meara appears most likely to be the starter on opening day. The 21-year-old rookie is raw but talented, and the Red Bulls are surely hoping Meara can show maturity beyond his years, especially if they wish to compete with the Houston Dynamo, Philadelphia Union and Sporting Kansas City in the Eastern Conference.


 

READ: Red Bulls goalkeeper Meara inches closer to starting role

Storylines to Watch

1. How will the goalkeeper situation pan out? There are only two goalkeepers currently on the roster, and both are young and inexperienced. Unless they find a veteran, the Red Bulls will be gambling big by starting Meara or Vuolo. If the club can land a more seasoned player to start, New York will improve its most glaring weakness.

2. Who will be the third DP? General manager Erik Solér recently said the club plans on adding a third designated player at some point this season. Who that will be is up for discussion, but another big-name signing to go along with Henry and Márquez would boost the club’s chances of lifting the MLS Cup.

3. Can Juan Agudelo win more minutes under Backe? Agudelo was used sparingly at the end of last season, leaving many fans and pundits to wonder how Backe rates the young US men’s national team forward. Whether Agudelo wins back more minutes or not, this season should be telling in terms of his standing and future with the club.

READ: RBNY's Marquez still harbors El Tri Olympic dream

What He Said

“We will have much better depth, there’s no question about it. We will have at least 18-20 good footballers. … I say we should try to go for it all: the Open Cup, the [Supporters’] Shield, the MLS Cup. We have a very good squad this year.”

– New York head coach Hans Backe

SEE: 2012 Season Preview Archive

If Everything Goes Right

Most of the starting team from last year has remained intact for the New York Red Bulls, and despite last year’s struggles, a run at a championship should not be ruled out. An ideal world would see Márquez on better behavior while smoothly transitioning into the midfield, the goalkeeper play being a nonfactor, a third DP coming in and shining and Henry continuing to light up the scoreboard en route to New York winning the Supporters’ Shield, US Open Cup and, most importantly, the MLS Cup.

Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com.

WATCH: Jon Gunnar Solli sees Kenny Cooper as key