TORONTO – For the eighth straight season, the New York Red Bulls advanced to the MLS Cup Playoffs, but for the eighth consecutive campaign it ended earlier than the team would have liked.
Outside of the Seattle Sounders’ nine-season run, no MLS club has a longer active playoff streak, but while the Sounders celebrated a breakthrough championship last December, the Red Bulls still await their first MLS Cup parade after being eliminated on away goals against Toronto FC on Sunday.
A lack of firepower wasn't to blame, two-time Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips said after scoring in Sunday's second leg at Toronto, which the Red Bulls won 1-0 after TFC took the opening leg 2-1 at Red Bull Arena. But at the same time, Wright-Phillips, a 17-goal scorer in 2017, acknowledged that had he beaten TFC goalkeeper Alex Bono when put clean through in the 62nd minute on Sunday, “We’re having a different talk now.”
Red Bulls midfielder and captain Sacha Kljestan, who saw his season end ignominiously with a halftime red card following an altercation in the tunnel with TFC striker (and US national teammate) Jozy Altidore, said that his team isn’t about to get away from its philosophy of constructing its squad on a foundation of Homegrown players. New York, after all, have travelled the Designated Player route before with the likes of Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez and still couldn’t get back to the MLS Cup final following their lone appearance in 2008.
They also came up short this season in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, falling in the final to Sporting Kansas City – meaning that the MLS original club and two-time Supporters' Shield winners are still looking for their first knockout trophy.
“We've been building this thing for a few years now and I think we're continuing to get better every year,” Kljestan said. “It's unfortunate that we haven't been able to reach our ultimate goal of the MLS Cup yet, but I think the future is very bright within our club.”
On Sunday, performances such as those of 18-year-old academy product Tyler Adams, who successfully held TFC captain Michael Bradley in check throughout the game, and 25-year-old Aaron Long, who did more than most to keep Reds star Sebastian Giovinco off the scoresheet, would seem to indicate the team’s youth movement is heading in the right direction.
Head coach Jesse Marsch said that the continued success of the team’s USL squad, New York Red Bulls II, is helping greatly in that department. Despite being eliminated from the USL Cup on Saturday night by Louisville City FC in the Eastern Conference Final, the developmental team, which won the league title in 2016, is doing what Marsch wants them to.
“Lot of bright young players in that group that will have to think about how they fit in into what we're doing here,” Marsch said. “[RBNY II head coach] John Wolyniec and his staff have done a great job.”
In addition to Long and Adams, Marsch singled out the development of budding midfield stars such as 24-year-old Sean Davis and 22-year-old Alex Muyl as vital to the future of the Red Bulls.
“That's why I say, the foundation of young players that are talented and fit the way we play and are brave and go after it. I'm really excited,” he said.
From his perspective in New York’s goal for the last six seasons, Luis Robles backed his head coach’s comments, adding that it’s not only exciting for Red Bulls fans, but fans of US soccer in general.
“I'm excited to see as they grow," he said, "not only how they lift up the New York Red Bull organization, but also the US national team and their own respective national teams."