Over the next two weeks, MLSsoccer.com will take a look back at the 2013 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with D.C. United and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning New York Red Bulls. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2013 record: 17-9-8 (59 points); 58 GF / 41 GA (+17 GD)
An unprecedented accomplishment. An all-too-familiar finish.
That was the New York Red Bulls’ 2013 season in a nutshell, as the team won their first piece of hardware via the Supporters’ Shield before falling prey to their postseason demons yet again. It was a campaign filled with extreme highs and lows, with the Red Bulls picking up several statement wins like road triumphs against the Houston Dynamo and Sporting Kansas City and head-scratching losses such as the defeats at Chivas USA and Chicago Fire.
There was also, of course, the characteristic drama that seems to follow New York every year, with Roy Miller intentionally encroaching on a penalty kick early in the season, Juninho parting ways after being openly unhappy with his role, and rookie head coach Mike Petke and star Thierry Henry getting into a heated exchange at a practice session.
Still, it was mostly a positive season under Petke. The team bought into his plan and demonstrated a never-say-die attitude that was sorely missing in years past, Tim Cahill stepped up to silence his most ardent critics, Jamison Olave became the type of shutdown center back the club needed and Henry continued to deliver moments of technical brilliance.
It all resulted in the club and its fan base cherishing their first piece of shiny silverware and holding on to some real optimism for the near future.
Best Moment of the Year
The pain and suffering that had accumulated over 18 years transformed into pure bliss on the final day of the regular season as the New York Red Bulls won their first piece of significant hardware by beating the Chicago Fire at Red Bull Arena on Oct. 27. Not only did New York win at home to celebrate with their trophy-starved fans, but they put on a show en route to winning 5-2.
Worst Moment of the Year
An argument could be made for the regular season loss to Chivas USA on Aug. 25 or the extra-time elimination defeat to Houston in the second leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinals on Nov. 6. But it was actually the opening game in that series against Houston that was most damning. The Red Bulls, fresh off of routing Houston twice at BBVA Compass Stadium, got off to a dream start in that Nov. 3 road match by taking a 2-0 lead, but a second-half collapse that changed the series for good saw them lose their two-goal advantage and Olave to a red card.
With apologies to Dax McCarty’s game-winning diving header in stoppage time vs. Real Salt Lake on July 27 and Cahill’s record eight-second strike vs. the Houston Dynamo on Oct. 20, the Red Bulls’ best tally in 2013 was Cahill’s header goal in a 2-2 draw with the New England Revolution on Oct. 5. The goal – which came on a nodded Cahill effort in the 97th minute – was not the prettiest of the year, but it helped the Red Bulls erase a late two-goal slip up and kept morale high as they pushed on towards the Supporters’ Shield.
Cahill was an absolute monster in 2013. Not only did the DP midfielder lead the club on the field by scoring a team-high 11 goals (many of which came in clutch situations) and putting in overlooked work defensively, but he also continued to be a key figure in the locker room and one that players rallied around. Henry may still wear the captain’s armband, but the transition to New York becoming Cahill’s team is well underway.
It came as a result of others passing on the job, but the appointment of head coach Mike Petke paid off tremendously. After being left at the alter by a pair of other candidates, the Red Bulls handed Petke the managerial keys on Jan. 24 despite him having no previous head coaching experience. Petke endured some initial struggles, but his passion and open-mindedness eventually led to a recipe for success that saw his beloved club claim their first trophy.
“I feel like over the last two weeks, the pressure and the stress I felt on my shoulders that I put myself under, I feel like I can handle anything in life now. It was tough, very emotional last few weeks. I just kept having this reoccurring thought and I kept trying to explain to my wife I just didn’t want to let down the fanbase, I didn’t want to let down the organization after being so close after so many years of heartache.” – Mike Petke on winning the 2013 Supporters’ Shield
1. A creative midfielder: The Red Bulls were the league’s highest scoring team in 2013, but there were still many stretches throughout the year when they struggled to consistently generate scoring chances for Henry and the other forwards. Petke (pictured right) has already stated that landing a playmaker is a priority for the club, but doing so will surely prove as tricky as it has in the past.
2. Attack-minded right back: The right fullback spot was the position that was most in flux during Petke’s initial season. The team never settled on a starter there – with Kosuke Kimura, Markus Holgersson and now-departed Brandon Barklage all taking turns. Petke is hoping to land someone capable of further stabilizing the defense while adding another dimension to the attack.
3. Cost-effective depth: With New York set to partake in as many as four competitions next year, depth will prove vital in determining how successful they are. The Red Bulls have done a good job of keeping 2013’s core in tact, but that has led to a tight cap situation that will leave them needing to find serviceable but economical complimentary players.
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.