HARRISON, N.J. — Chris Armas doesn’t believe 2019 was a bad season for the New York Red Bulls.
That, the head coach said, is reserved for teams that didn’t make the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs.
“I think if you talk about half the teams in the league that don't make the playoffs, they don't make the cut, they’re not in it to win it,” Armas said at the club’s season-ending media availability at Red Bull Arena Wednesday morning. “They’re not on the road, scoring three goals, they have no chance. Those guys had a bad year. We didn’t have a bad year. We had an off-year. We didn’t achieve the goal.”
Still, Armas, who faced pressure from sections of the club's supporters during the season, has vowed to rebound from a mediocre year.
“When you're not the last team standing, you want to say you're proud of your team. Even in off years, and it was an off-year, we're not happy with it,” Armas said. “And now we work, we crank, not to put together a roster and a team that can win, but to win decisively. That’s the goal.”
Red Bulls sporting director Denis Hamlett said the decision was made to stick with most of the roster from a record-breaking 2018 season in which New York captured a third Supporters’ Shield in six years.
The idea was this group earned a right to give it another go. But the loss of Tyler Adams in a transfer to RB Leipzig and the season-long injury to striker Bradley Wright-Phillips were two huge voids to fill.
“It’s the first time even I’ve said that even all year,” Armas sad. “You can start there and probably come up with 20 other things that if it comes out of my mouth it’s excuses, but I’m still not going to go there.”
Now, Hamlett said there are “hard questions” to be asked this offseason and, with the playoff schedule moved up and with the club's early exit, there’s additional time to mull over roster decisions.
“We are going to look at everything very hard to make sure now that we don't repeat this season. That I can assure you of,” Hamlett said. “That’s something we’ve already started in the process. And we're going to take our time.”
While the Red Bulls were wildly inconsistent, Armas lauded his team for sticking true to its identity and the way they wanted to play. He said leading the league in balls won in the attacking third, in the middle third and in balls played forward support that notion.
“Maybe we just didn’t execute enough, all of us – myself, the staff, the players,” Armas said. “We put ourselves in games to win, had lots of leads and (didn't) execute enough – decision making, defending, whatever it is. But I would say that it wasn't a bad year like bad is harsh.”
The Red Bulls have leaned on their development pyramid and Hamlett said “north of 40 percent” of the minutes played, goals and assists this season came from players who came up through Red Bulls II.
But, with two additional scouts to be hired soon, and with the support of the Red Bull global scouting system, Hamlett said he has the green light to spend in the offseason.
“We just want to make sure now that we do our homework and bring in the right types of players that can help us,” Hamlett said.
How vastly different will next year’s team look? The Red Bulls have already fended off transfer requests for Kaku and Aaron Long, who didn’t want to comment about his future. But the U.S. men's national team center back did say a move to the English Premier League remains a dream.
Josh Sims arrived on a late-season loan from Southampton. With no option to buy, the winger, who scored his first goal for the Red Bulls in Sunday’s 4-3 Round One defeat to the Philadelphia Union, will return to England in the coming days.
Sims said he wants to return, and Hamlett said the 22-year-old impressed during his short stay.
“I think you can see the qualities that he brings,” Hamlett said. “We’re excited. Unfortunately he got injured in the last game, but he’s someone we think definitely has big potential for us.”
Gone for sure is Connor Lade, who informed his teammates of his retirement in the visitors' locker room at Talen Energy Stadium. The club announced that on Wednesday.
Hamlett also wouldn’t commit to the future of Wright-Phillips, who scored two goals in nine starts across 24 appearances during an injury-plagued season. The forward will turn 35 early in the 2020 season.
“What I would say is I'm not going to get into player contract discussions like that,” Hamlett said. “We’ll have some time in the next couple days with both those players and have real honest conversations and see where things make sense for us and for them.”
As for Wright-Phillips, he said he’s heard the rumblings of a possible retirement.
“I don’t know who it is who thinks I’m done, but it isn’t me,” Wright-Phillips said. “I had an injury. I didn’t get to full fitness this season. I’m definitely not done.”