Since Thierry Henry retired at the end of last season, the going has been tough for the New York Red Bulls. The Red Bulls are struggling to score goals, and have lost their last three MLS matches. Henry’s leadership and talent strengthened the team and excited fans during his five seasons in New York. The Red Bulls have not yet found a replacement for the French legend, and are paying the price for it.
Bradley Wright-Phillips has been leading the front line for the Red Bulls this season, and has five goals to his name. He has crafty Mike Grella up front with him (three goals), but this is not the strong front line we have come to expect from the Red Bulls. The Red Bulls need to sign a striker that can score goals, and whose leadership can rebrand the club’s missing identity.
Sacha Klještan looks to be a good signing for New York, but he has not quite gelled with the likes of Dax McCarty and Lloyd Sam in the middle of the park. It is always difficult for new midfield partners to connect and develop chemistry. Given time, the Red Bulls’ midfielders will begin to click and find ways to set up more goals for the Red Bulls’ attackers.
I think the Red Bulls are lacking the cutting edge of the team that advanced to the playoff semifinals last year. The squad also misses the powerful Tim Cahill in attack, since his move to Chinese side Shanghai Shenhua in February 2015. An optimist would say that they are currently in fifth place in the Eastern Conference and will likely make the playoffs this season. This is probably true, but there is reason for concern for Red Bulls fans.
If the Red Bulls do not generate more offense, they will struggle against their competitors in the playoffs. At this point in time, the teams in playoff contention look more likely than the Red Bulls to advance to the second round of the playoffs. I just do not see their current squad of players competing for the MLS Cup.
However, it is not all doom and gloom for Red Bulls fans. They will look to return to winning ways in the near future and cement a place in the postseason. If they qualify, anything is possible, as long as they can improve their play for the start of the playoffs in November.
The team needs to focus on improving their form, because rumors off the field provide distractions surrounding a tardy replacement for Henry. Fans will be glued to all media outlets in the offseason to see who that player might be. The future of the Red Bulls depends on this signing, as fans hope it will turn them into a more consistent team come next season.
The ideal man for the job would have European experience, some good years ahead of him, and a willingness to be the leader that the Red Bulls currently lack. The league is still expanding, with more teams expected to join the league in the upcoming seasons. If the Red Bulls do not sign a quality forward after the current term is up, they are in danger of falling behind the competition.
Henry’s boots have been hard to fill, but the Red Bulls currently hold bragging rights in the city. New York City FC is still establishing itself, and lost the first meeting between the two sides. However, the Red Bulls face the possibility that NYCFC will be more threatening in the near future with the addition of Frank Lampard.
Lampard’s inclusion might cause several Red Bulls fans to switch loyalties to their city rivals. With the influx of funding and exciting youth prospects from Manchester City, this is an unfortunate possibility. In order to generate more buzz next year, the Red Bulls will need to find a talented leader that can bolster their prospects in the Eastern Conference.