The nice thing about the New York Red Bulls is that you knew what you're going to get. Sports... sports are messy. Despite anyone's best efforts, sports are nearly impossible to predict. The Red Bulls, though, those guys made sense.
You knew how they were going to play and, at least until today, you knew who would be on the field doing it. That style and those players built something close to a dynasty — probably not quite a dynasty, but with that word, there's something to be said for getting close. Three Supporters' Shield's in six years. It might be the most under-appreciated accomplishment in the league (it actually feels like it will be respected more in 10 years than it is now). You knew what you were going to get, and few could stop them.
That era has come to an end. First, it was Dax McCarty leaving prior to the 2017 season, then Sacha Klejstan leading into 2018. Thursday's roster announcements culminated the turnover, with the last remaining vestiges of the Red Bulls that we had all become so familiar with— Luis Robles, Bradley Wright-Phillips, and Connor Lade (who announced his retirement a few weeks ago) — moving on. Every player, bar goalkeeper Ryan Meara, from that first Supporters' Shield in 2013 has now left the club.
One of the most significant accomplishments in sports is to create "a team." When someone mentions the '70s Ajax teams, the '80s Lakers teams, the '90s Bulls teams or the '90s DC United teams, the players come to mind immediately. You don't need a descriptive sentence, the faces and big moments and emotions have already implanted themselves in your brain. This Red Bulls group did that. Perhaps even more significant than the credit they get for three Supporters' Shields will be the fact that they've cemented themselves into that category. We will forever be able to say, "the Red Bulls of the Teens" and leave it at that (okay, that's a weak name and needs some work, but we can all agree it's the "teens" part fault, right?).
Thank you, Bradley Wright-Phillips pic.twitter.com/VrvNykpqDI— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) November 21, 2019
The challenge now falls squarely on technical director Dennis Hamlet and head coach Chris Armas. It's clear that this "era" is over. Every club wants to be larger than an era. A run of success shouldn't just be a span of time, it should be your identity.
The thing that we all implicitly — if not outright directly — complimented the Red Bulls for since Thierry Henry departed was the power of their organizational machine. The Red Bulls were larger than any player. They have had the Press thing and Homegrown Development thing and Player Profile Matching thing that put them ahead of the curve.
That identity will now get tested. Robles, Wright-Phillips, McCarty, and Klejstan were all great MLS players — maybe even all-time great MLS players. The era of those players is now over. We will soon find out if the Red Bulls as an organization were also an era, or a lasting winner.