For the next two weeks, MLSsoccer.com will preview 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 two of two previewing New York's 2012 season. You can find Part 1 here.
Depth Chart: 1. Ryan Meara, 2. Jeremy Vuolo
Strengths: Having lost Frank Rost during the offseason, the Red Bulls replaced last year’s starting goalkeeper with a pair of youngsters in Meara and Vuolo. Neither has been named the starter yet (though preseason friendlies indicate Meara is the favorite), but the Red Bulls have liked what they've seen from both.
Weaknesses: Neither Meara or Vuolo have MLS experience and opposing teams will be champing at the bit to test them. Growing pains are to be expected, and an injury could leave the Red Bulls especially thin between the posts.
Wildcard: Head coach Hans Backe and general manager Erik Solér have made no secret of being in the market for a third goalkeeper. They want someone who is more seasoned and have an eye on American Luis Robles from German second-division club Karlsruhe. Landing Robles or another experienced goalkeeper like him would help the Red Bulls address the position on their team with the most question marks.
Depth Chart: RB: 1. Jan Gunnar Solli, 2. Jonathan Borrajo; CB: 1. Wilman Conde – Markus Holgersson, 2. Stephen Keel, 3. Rafa Márquez; LB: 1. Roy Miller, Connor Lade
Backe adds depth, aims for trophies in 2012
Strengths: The starting back four all have decent to good size, so they should fare well against crosses and set pieces. Conde and Holgersson will also provide New York with another pair of targets on offensive free kicks and corner kicks.
Weaknesses: Just how good the depth at fullback is remains fuzzy. The Red Bulls acquired New Jersey natives Lade and Borrajo this offseason, but neither has ever played in MLS before.
Wildcard: How the partnership of Conde and Holgersson pans out could be a key factor in the success of the Red Bulls this season. The two center backs have never played together, so their chemistry will be a work in progress over the course of the year. Throw in this being Holgersson’s first MLS season and that Conde is still recovering from an ankle injury, and you can see why some fans are skeptical over the team’s projected starting tandem.
Depth Chart: RM: 1. Dane Richards, 2. Dax McCarty; CM: 1. Rafa Márquez – Teemu Tainio, 3. Dax McCarty 4. Victor Palsson; LM: 1. Joel Lindpere, 2. Mehdi Ballouchy
Strengths: Lindpere was arguably the team’s most consistent performer last year, and the Red Bulls rewarded the 30-year-old Estonian with a new multi-year contract in January. Lindpere, who scored seven goals and assisted on seven others in 2011, will be looking to prove he is worth every cent of that new deal while serving as one of the top offensive weapons for the club.
Weaknesses: The Red Bulls may have talent at all four of their midfield spots, but they lack a true playmaker. Ballouchy, one of the most creative players on the team in practice, has been disappointingly inconsistent in the games that count. Expect big a midseason acquisition, and a period of adjustment as the team acclimates.
Wildcard: After being heavily scrutinized in 2011, Márquez returns to New York projected to spend more of his time in central midfield. His skill and defensive grit add to an already-impressive midfield. He just needs to keep his temper and mouth in check in order to avoid ruffling any more feathers.
Depth Chart: 1. Thierry Henry, 2. Luke Rodgers, 3. Juan Agudelo, 4. Kenny Cooper
Strengths: Coming off a 14-goal season and a loan stint with Arsenal in which he demonstrated that he is still capable of competing with Europe's elite, Henry shows no signs of slowing down. He will continue to be the focal point of New York’s offense and is still someone opposing defenses will need to gameplan around.
Weaknesses: The Red Bulls won just once without Rodgers in the lineup last year, and as of now, he's stuck in bureaucratic limbo trying to renew his visa. If he's back there's no reason to think he and Henry won't pick up where they left off last year, but the simple fact that it's an "if" has nerves fraying with less than two weeks before the season starts.
Wildcard: Agudelo is one of the most talented youngsters in the league, but where exactly he fits on the Red Bulls remains unclear. His minutes dwindled drastically towards the end of last season and the addition of Cooper in the offseason could cut into Agudelo’s playing time.
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com.