Poor New York Red Bulls.

In a season when it was all supposed to come together (young stars! established DPs! weak conference! newish stadium!) it all fell apart.  New York struggled all season and barely made the playoffs, defeating a floundering Dallas side before falling in the conference semi-finals.  The offseason has not been kind to them either, as player moves and front offices non-changes have left this team in a lurch.

As the title of this article insinuates, there are many, many questions floating around Red Bulls this offseason and for this “Three Questions” post we had to limit and condense what we are asking.  In the past, the prospect of a few new designated player signings (Eto’o! Anelka!) could calm everyone’s fears, but I am afraid even a shiny new toy may not mask some serious uncertainties in this club.

1. What is going to happen to the designated players?

As one of the few teams with a maximum number of designated players, the three New York DPs are a major part of this team already.  Considering where they play, however, their roles are magnified.  The team is already working on a new deal with keeper Frank Rost, who failed to dominate in his half season of play but was still an upgrade between the pipes for NY.  His situation needs to be settled so the team can either move on or check that position off.

Then there’s Thierry Henry, who looks to be going on a two month loan to Arsenal despite a few paperwork snags.  The team obviously does not want Henry to leave even for a short loan for two reasons.  First, he still has an intense love for his former club and Arsenal is one Chamakh/Van Persie extended absence away from needing a cheap, experienced forward for the rest of the season.  Second, Henry was instant offense for the club last season and any additional mileage on him could reduce his effectiveness (remember, his first MLS half-season was marred by injuries).  Even if he only stays for two months, will he still be as effective as 2011?

Then there’s Rafa Marquez, and why they haven’t transferred/released/lost their starting holding midfielder is a mystery to many of us.  He should be gone already due to his negative impact on the locker room, but his absence will leave a gap in the defense.

2. What is going to happen to the youths?

Juan Agudelo received less playing time than you’d expect for a national team starter, due to Hans Backe’s preferences and the solid play of the other New York forwards.  This offseason he has trained with Liverpool and Stuttgart, and the experience was positive for all parties.  One wonders if an exit is in his future as New York continued to put money into older DPs who will compete for playing time.

Then there’s Tim Ream who every week it seems like is being linked to another English side desperate for a cheap fix on defense.  This week it’s Bolton who are very very desperate for some help at, well, any position but especially center back.  Erik Soler has said Ream will not be leaving, but he also said Henry would not be going out on loan, so that is a situation to watch.  Losing one or both of these young players would be a major issue for the team.

3. What’s the plan?

The plan for the Red Bulls every year seems to be to rotate European talent in and out and hope for better results (which some define as insanity).  This year it is bringing in Markus Holgersson and possibly saying goodbye to Joel Lindpere.  Undoubtedly Holgersson will help a shaky backline and whoever the newest big name designated player is will help with the playoff hunt, but can this team continue to churn players and expect results?  Already, New York has used the most players in MLS history, and maybe that is Soler and Backe’s plan: churn through experienced players while using some young ones to find the right combination.

Is it the right one though, and will it work this offseason?  New York has a good youth academy that has contributed to the team, but compare their roster to FC Dallas (who we reviewed yesterday).  Both have young up-and-coming players, but Dallas is looking to theirs to provide key depth.  Time will tell which strategy is correct but it is telling that Dallas is considered a definite MLS Cup contender and New York’s season is up in the air.