Club: New York Red Bulls
Head Coach: Hans Backe
Record: 15-9-6 First in the East/3rd Overall
Last season in the New York City tri-state area was just a lot of fun to watch and experience for myself and the many supporters of this MLS side from the original MetroStars to the current New York Red Bulls. A year long celebration of Red Bull Arena’s first season. Walking into Red Bull Arena was an accomplishment on its own after that horrible 2009 season. But with head coach Hans Backe and sporting director Erik Soler, the club and its supporters got something more than just a re-hab of a roster.
The surprise of last season was how good Estonian Joel Lindpere was and the drafting of center back Tim Ream. Juan Pablo Angel who had a great pre-season ’til the reckless challenge from Toronto FC’s Julian DeGuzman slowed him up for the start of the regular season and a golazo of a finish in second half stoppage time from thirty yards away against Houston Dynamo. Summer transfer window pick-ups with Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez brought more help and star power to the club and the league, but the major question right now is this. After their early playoff ouster by the San Jose Earthquakes, does this club have the ability to get over the hump and finally win their first piece of hardware?
Key Roster Additions: Norwegian midfielder Jan Gunnar Solli makes his first trip to North America as he is a solid flank player in the midfield and can play on both sides of the pitch. Saw him on television when the Red Bulls played a friendly down in Mexico against Chivas of Guadalajara and when I was down in Ft. Lauderdale to watch them play against the Strikers. Very confident on the ball and has deceptive speed, it looks like he can make a difference.
Academy Graduates: Just out of nowhere the club has decided to graduate some of their top prospects since the explosion of Juan Agudelo from last year. Midfielder Matt Kassel, who ended his time with the University of Maryland, was an original Academy player that made a name for himself with how he works on and off the ball. He also helped the Terrapins win their National Championship in his freshman season. US U-20 international center back Sacir Hot also signed up to the senior squad as he hasn’t looked out of place during training. He was paired up with Tim Ream during a scrimmage and showed very well.
Key Roster Subtractions: Right off the bat, not keeping Juan Pablo Angel is a large glare that has been know during last season as the development of Juan Agudelo has improved and given Backe the confidence to use him as a possible pairing with Thierry Henry. Just recently the coaching staff has been trimmed as long time assistants Richie Williams and Des McAleenan have been released with about two weeks before the regular season started.
Players to watch: Dane Richards has finally broken out since the arrival of Henry and he hasn’t looked back. Scored a great goal in the pre-season loss to Guadalajara and had a great pre-season down in South Florida. His time with the Jamaican National Team in the Digicel Caribbean Cup has helped him tremendously and if he continues to be a terror on the right flank, then this club can go far.
Joel Lindpere is the engine in the middle of the midfield as he will help set up and score a couple of goals. He could miss some time with Estonia during their Euro Cup Qualifiers, but that’s why Soler and Backe shored up the midfield. They are expecting some players missing during the Gold Cup and European Championship qualifying.
If that goal by Juan Agudelo against South Africa didn’t give you goose bumps for what’s ahead of him, then there is a possibility that he could light it up while being paired with one of the best strikers in the world in Thierry Henry. If the USA qualifies for the U-20 World Cup this summer, he could miss some time with the club.
Let’s not forget that Thierry Henry wants to improve himself after his poor performance with only two goals.
2011 predictions: This club should be better than last year. They are fitter than before and the center back tandem of Ream and Marquez will be strong. It looks like they are going to sign Finnish International Teemu Tainio to help out as a full back. Tony Tchani will be the defensive midfielder and he will get a full season there to improve. Many questions right now about John Rooney (Wayne’s younger brother) of what he can bring to the club, but the small snippets I have seen, he can bomb that ball into the net while on the move or during set pieces. The Eastern Conference is weak and the club should make the playoffs.