For the New York Red Bulls, the 2011 season was supposed to end with a game at the Home Depot Center. But that final game was supposed to be MLS Cup – not a loss in the second round of the playoffs.
All the preseason talk of a first-ever Supporters’ Shield quickly faded as a June swoon doomed the Red Bulls to merely fighting for the playoffs, earning the 10th and final postseason spot on the last day of the season. For the most expensive lineup in the league, it was a disappointing and underwhelming campaign.
Best Moment of the Year
Following a season of lackluster results, the 2-0 home win on Oct. 4 over the league leading LA Galaxy was the feel good moment of the season. Originally scheduled for August, the match was postponed due to Hurricane Irene and fell advantageously for the Red Bulls, who were suddenly streaking in September, carrying that form into October. A Luke Rodgers first-half goal and a clinical strike by Thierry Henry in the second half punctuated a match where, for one night, the Red Bulls lived up to their potential.
Worst Moment of the Year
The Red Bulls were coming off an important road win in Dallas and followed it up on Sept. 21 with a 3-1 midweek loss to Real Salt Lake at home. The three goals conceded were suspect, including a soft back-pass by center back Tim Ream that was intercepted by Fabián Espíndola. Making matters worse, at the end of the game, Rafa Márquez lashed out at his teammates for not being at his “level.” It was just another sad twist in what was a sad season for New York.
It was inconsequential to the score line with the Red Bulls up 3-0, but in stoppage time of the April 21 game at D.C. United, Juan Agudelo signaled his growing star power. Streaking down the right flank, Jan Gunnar Solli played a centering pass into the box that the teen sensation controlled, chipped to himself and right-footed past United goalkeeper Bill Hamid.
In perhaps the best game of the MLS season, the Galaxy’s Landon Donovan was sent in behind the Red Bulls defense and deftly rounded goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul. With an open net, Donovan sent in a slow roller towards the goal. But Ream, racing at full speed from 40 yards away, caught up to the ball. Fully extended, he cleared it off the line, preserving the 1-1 draw for New York.
It would be easy to chalk this one up to captain Henry, who led the team with 14 goals and showed the class and poise that made him a legend in Highbury and Nou Camp. But there was no player more valuable to the team than Joel Lindpere. Leading the team in minutes, the Estonian was fourth on the Red Bulls with seven goals and tied for the team lead with seven assists. Playing centrally and on the left wing, he worked tirelessly and effectively.
Endearing himself to the fans within a manner of matches, Rodgers made believers of the doubters who didn’t think that a diminutive striker from the lower divisions of England could make an impact in MLS. Instead, he was second on the team with nine goals, but his running and movement into space opened things up for the rest of the offense. Without the benefit of preseason training due to injury, Rodgers was hampered all year with dings and knocks. But if he can stay healthy next year, he could be a force in MLS.
1. Re-sign Rost and Lindpere: It wasn’t a popular signing in August, but former German national-team ‘keeper Frank Rost was a valuable addition to the team. His command of the area, solid distribution and outstanding communication was an asset to the defense. If the erstwhile Designated Player can be re-signed to a reasonable deal, it would be a plus. Lindpere’s deal is also up and management must make sure that the Estonian plays another two years in MLS. His value to the team coupled with his leadership makes him central to the team’s future.
2. A true No. 10: The Red Bulls traded for, then traded away Dwayne De Rosario in a span of half a season. Despite his international success with Canada and MLS Cup pedigree, the creative midfielder and perennial MLS All-Star never seemed to gel with the team. A true creative playmaker, someone who can pull the string of the attack and spray balls to Henry and Rodgers, is a must. De Rosario may have been too much of a withdrawn striker to work well with Henry and Rodgers, but someone who can dribble and create must be found.
3. Depth at fullback: With a knee injury to right back Chris Albright late in the season and some inconsistent play from left back Roy Miller, two outside backs to add depth to the team need to be found. In the Red Bulls system, the backs need to push forward and be able to hit some crosses, but perhaps more important, speed is needed to provide cover for a midfield that, outside of Dane Richards, is painfully slow.