MLSsoccer.com continues to take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2012 record: 16-9-9 (57 points); 57 GF / 46 GA (+11 GD)
The New York Red Bulls had a trademark year in 2012. There were flashes of brilliance, giant letdowns, controversial moments and, ultimately, another disappointing finish that saw the club fail to bring some hardware to their dusty and empty trophy cabinet.
At times this year, the Red Bulls had the look of a real contender. They were able to score goals in bunches, won without their star players on a number of occasions and had serious stretches of playing aesthetically pleasing soccer.
Then there were times in which they looked the polar opposite, conceding early goals and showing a lack of cohesion. Making matters worse were the front office changes that came late in the year and served as nothing but a distraction, even if the players would not say so publicly.
Yes, 2012 was just the type of year that has sadly become the norm for the Red Bulls. They raised expectations and looked ready to end their 16-year drought, only to be forced to head back to the drawing board to begin planning for 2013.
Best Moment of the Year
With Designated Players Rafa Márquez and Thierry Henry sidelined for much of a five-game stretch early in the season, the Red Bulls went a perfect 5-0 from late April to mid-May with a team comprising complementary and relatively unknown players. The success during that span brought plenty of reason for optimism and showed how much deeper the Red Bulls were than in years past.
Worst Moment of the Year
Losing to a rival is always a bitter pill to swallow, but the Red Bulls had it as bad as it comes. New York were forced to watch archnemesis D.C. United celebrate with their few hundred fans at Red Bull Arena after eliminating New York in the Eastern Conference semifinals on Nov. 8. New York had been the better side in that decisive leg, but a lapse in concentration, missed penalty kick and late goal doomed them to another early exit in the playoffs.
Henry scored a number of beauties in 2012. None, however, was better than the olimpico he netted in the Red Bulls’ 3-1 win over the Columbus Crew on Sept. 15. Henry punctuated a dominant performance that had already seen him score a goal and assist on another when he intentionally hit a corner kick over Crew goalkeeper Matt Lampson, who was cheating towards the near post. The ball soared over Lampson and stung off the far post before going in, sending the Red Bulls and their home crowd into a frenzy.
Of the three goalkeepers that started games this season for the Red Bulls, Luis Robles was the one who played the least amount of time. That still didn't stop him from coming up with the biggest stop of the year in the Red Bulls’ 1-1 draw with D.C. United in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Nov. 3. Robles stopped Chris Pontius on a penalty kick late in the first half of that match to keep the game scoreless and prevent the Red Bulls from going into the locker room trailing and demoralized after United had dominated them for large stretches.
It is easy to overlook Dax McCarty when Henry scored 15 goals and had 12 assists, but the American midfielder started in all but one game (which he was suspended for) this season and shone in a more defensive role than he’s accustomed to. He was a work horse for a Red Bulls team that saw plenty of changes due to injuries and trades and the team’s most consistent player. McCarty even played out of position by going out wide on a handful of occasions, and he was serviceable there as well.
Kenny Cooper is the clear-cut choice on this one. The forward tied a career high in goals scored by finding the back of the net 18 times, and he finished behind only the unearthly Chris Wondolowski in the MLS Golden Boot race. Cooper also should have been the hero to push the Red Bulls through to the Eastern Conference Championship, but his penalty kick finish in the second leg of the series against United was negated due to encroachment from three of his teammates.
1. A head coach with a better understanding of the league: The Red Bulls still have not found Hans Backe’s successor and they need to do so soon, as the MLS Player Combine and SuperDraft are fast approaching. Regardless of where the eventual coach comes from or what his nationality is – former Scotland international Gary McAllister has been rumored to be the choice in recent days – the Red Bulls could use someone who is a bit more familiar with MLS and American players in order to avoid having to go through the growing pains that Backe experienced.
2. Wide players: Lloyd Sam (right) and Joel Lindpere are still with the club, but there is little depth behind them. That said, Sam was injured a bit too often during his short time with the club and Lindpere looked a shell of his former productive self in 2012, which makes adding a wide player or two a top offseason priority for the Red Bulls.
3. Another central midfielder or two: With Teemu Tainio and Rafa Márquez gone, the Red Bulls are dangerously thin in central midfield. McCarty and Tim Cahill are still around and can pair up to make a formidable starting tandem, but there is currently no other natural central midfielder on the roster. New York will need to address that unless they want to risk having to deploy Heath Pearce there again, a sight that would make most Red Bulls fans shudder.
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.