New York Red Bulls admit to taking steps in the right direction in 2013, but rue missed opportunity

Gutted Mike Petke during NYvHOU

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HARRISON, N.J. – There's no denying the New York Red Bulls took a step in the right direction in 2013 under rookie head coach Mike Petke, winning their first trophy and demonstrating more character than they had in recent memory. But the feeling that the club missed out on a huge opportunity cannot be shaken, either.

The Red Bulls once again fell short of their ultimate goal of winning MLS Cup, losing 2-1 at home to the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night, and that result cast a large enough shadow to take away a bit of the shine from what was by and large a positive season.

No, New York’s season should not be looked at as a failure, not when they ended the year with just one loss in their final 10 matches en route to hoisting the Supporters’ Shield. But one cannot also be blamed for thinking the talented and deep team didn't reach its full potential in 2013.

“It’s a great one for Mike, his first year as a coach winning the Supporters’ Shield, but you know the rules here,” said captain Thierry Henry. “You have to win the MLS Cup to be champion. We didn’t manage to do that.”

While another year without an MLS Cup will surely sting the Red Bulls and their fan base, there are reasons for optimism heading into 2014. New York showed newfound grit under Petke, fought off inconsistency to string together an impressive final two months of the regular season and looked like a more cohesive unit than had been seen in recent years.

“Mike did a great job changing the character of the team, and not just Mike,” said goalkeeper Luis Robles after Wednesday’s extra time loss to the Dynamo at Red Bull Arena. “It’s Tim [Cahill], Thierry, and any of those guys that stepped up to be leaders this season and I think we surprised a lot of people.

“If we can focus on that and build off of that for next season, I don’t think we’re going to surprise as many people, but there’s a lot there already that can be built upon towards the future.”

Looking forward might be difficult to do in present day given the freshness of the wound from the Red Bulls’ playoff exit. But the club does not have to look very far into the past to see why the future may be brighter than ever.

“I’m proud that we had the chance to lift a little bit of silverware in this season,” said Cahill of helping New York claim its first trophy in 2013. “Overall, the boys should be proud of what we achieved this year and so should the fans.”

Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.