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)
There was relentless optimism about the New York Red Bulls this past offseason. There almost always is.
That optimism was because of a few things. First, the return of Thierry Henry, who largely lived up to expectations with 15 goals and 12 assists (though precious few of either against playoff teams). Second, a revamped defense. And third, Kenny Cooper.
Add in what turned out to be an exceptional draft pick in Ryan Meara – who was the front-runner for MLS Rookie of the Year before he got hurt – and an early five-game winning streak that was propelled by a bunch of scrappy cast-offs as Henry and most of the other big names were nursing injuries … hell, this looked like the year. By the end of May, the Red Bulls had shown they were just as capable of winning 1-0 as they were of winning 5-2.
Then, as it always does in New Jersey, the tinkering started. Cooper, who finished second in the league with 18 goals (on just 84 shots, by the way – fewest of anybody in the top five), was often dropped from the first XI. Dax McCarty, who finally started channeling his inner Didier Deschamps en route to becoming one of the league’s best d-mids, was shuttled to right midfield. Or left. Or attacking mid.
Heath Pearce was used at center back, then at left back. Same with Wilman Conde, who also saw spot duty at right back. Connor Lade, the promising rookie, played four different spots. Joel Lindpere was in and out of the lineup despite being the one Red Bull who could be counted on to play better in the most important games.
Tim Cahill was added in mid-summer, with an eye toward providing more attacking punch. He scored just one goal. Dane Richards was traded for Sébastien Le Toux, robbing the New York midfield of their only speed option in exchange for a forward who generally couldn’t get off the bench.
Even when things went right – Brandon Barklage’s stunning ascendance from scrap heap to starter – they went wrong, as the journeyman found himself on the injury report a week after locking down his place in the first XI.
SAVE: Cooper converts, encroachment called, 2nd saved
And then it ended according to the same script we've seen for 17 seasons: cue "excruciating playoff loss." This time it wasn’t a three-goal collapse in New England, or an out-of-nowhere San Jose attacking explosion, but a self-immolation brought about by Henry’s encroachment on a Cooper spot kick and Rafa Márquez (see ya!) picking up yet another stupid red card.
RBNY's two biggest names led to one of the very worst defeats in franchise history, and against their oldest and most hated rivals. Then the manager got canned.
Same old, same old.
For 2013? There will be the same high expectations, the same cries of “Deepest team ever!” and the same hopes that this is the year the New York franchise finally breaks the seal on their barren trophy cabinet. And on paper, there’s certainly cause for optimism.
They got rid of Márquez, the worst DP in league history, essentially replacing him with Jámison Olave. It’s a gamble, because while Olave’s still one of the very best central defenders in the league when healthy, he really was only fit for eight to 10 games each of the last two years.
They also added Fabián Espíndola, which could mean that Cooper is out. Because, you know, who needs 18 goals? And on Monday, they signed Lyon legend Juninho Pernambucano. Yes, he’s old – 38 at the end of January – but he played well in Brazil’s top flight last year. If you can do that, you can make a mark in MLS.
But … there’s still no head coach. Sporting director Andy Roxburgh seems to be calling the shots, and it’s hard to argue with a single one as of yet (that will change if Cooper is, indeed, shipped), yet once again this is going to be a team with a brand new look. New York never get those rollover minutes that serve the likes of LA, RSL and Seattle so well.
How will they line up? Best guess is a 4-1-4-1 with Henry as a lone forward and McCarty doing all the running for an attacking midfield duo of Cahill and Juninho. If you’re looking for Dax this winter, he’ll be on a treadmill, weeping softly.
Does this mean New York are doomed to another year of futility? The talent in the locker room says “no.” And Red Bull fans have most certainly heard that before.
Same old, same old.