Time has passed. The pain has dulled. But the wounds still remain – and a scar will forever leave its macabre mark upon each supporter. In one of my favorite movies (‘A Bronx Tale’), Robert DeNiro’s character waxes poetic to his son about love, saying, “Let me tell you somethin’ right now. You’re only allowed three great women in your lifetime. They come along like the great fighters, every ten years….Sometimes you get ’em all at once.” I subscribe to this theory 100%, not only in the romantic sense, but in the sense that we as soccer fans, are also treated to a few, ethereal, mercurial talents in our days as a fan. Sometimes they only appear to us on a screen, as if a ghost, ethereally floating in its warm glow. But sometimes, we’re fortunate enough to witness them in person. To stand amongst their presence – no matter how small our participation in it – and feast our eyes upon a sporting buffet of skill and spectacle. All of a sudden, that’s it – poof! – the maestro is gone, and we’re left to wonder, what could have been? What wonderment was in store? This has become the recent reality of our fanbase – watching Monseuir Henry saunter off into the sunset only to pick up the microphone at Sky Sports. And who could blame him, he looks….
ow you seh…magnifique!
With the man:
and the icon:
having left the building, what are we to do? Who are we to latch onto? And what are our beloved Red Bulls going to look like come first kick this spring? That leads to a larger question of where our squad is as of right now, and what is foreseeable taking into account the recent news about the tidal shift in attitude towards the composition of the squad and club-level strategic tactics as well. With that said, and understandably being WAY late to the party (business trip, rescuing a puppy, and life have gotten in my way recently, mea culpa!!) let’s delve into a retrospective of the 2014 season.
For all intents and purposes, this year’s results amounted to a bonus for us supporters. The team was experiencing its typical mid-summer swoon and looked to be underperforming, ready to usher King Titi off into the sunset stage left in disappointing fashion. Strangely enough, the squad bounced back and ended the season with gusto. They steamrolled into the playoffs, dispatched DC and pushed the Revs to the brink, and frankly should have been competing in MLS Cup had it not been for some shoddy refereeing decisions, silly yellow cards, and poor finishing. While the team can do nothing about the refereeing, silly yellows and wayward finishing plagued the squad year-long. Henry went so far as to say that BWP should have had more than 40 goals at the juncture when BWP’s chase for the single-season goal record picked up steam in the press and amongst the fanbase. When was the last time we had a team challenging for MLS Cup Final, a forward leading the league in goals (and pushing the record to the brink), and a team that seemed to actually have a backbone?? I for one, can’t remember a time, because I’m confident in saying it hasn’t happened. Henry’s retirement, Cahill’s status being in limbo, and the departure of some familiar faces already, have provided plenty of questions and to-do’s that Petke and Co. will need to address before March 8th against SKC at the Cauldron. Before that happens, we’ve got an offseason to navigate, so let’s see what things the club can focus on to come out stronger and more prepared to challenge for MLS Cup in 2015.
Offseason focus #1 – Keep the core intact. For once in what seems like forever we seem to have a strong core of players who are MLS-proven, experienced, tough, and resilient players. McCarty, Alexander, BWP, Sam, Robles, Miller: these are the players that the new squad will have to lean on in order to once again be competitive next year. An interesting thing to note about this subset of players, is that four of them play right up the “spine” of our starting eleven, something widely accepted and promoted as good practice because if you can control the middle of the park, it gets much easier to dictate gameplay. Alexander and McCarty will be absolutely crucial to next season – their influence over the last third of the campaign in 2014 was indelible and it gave the rest of the team the platform from which to play cohesively and with confidence. This leads me to offseason focus #2….
Strengthen the backline first – then find the goals. This ties in with the indispensable nature of McCarty and Alexander, as prior to the forging of that partnership we had been leaking goals – soft, silly, and undisciplined goals at that – at an alarming rate. I believe that it’s time to give Miazga full support for the other centerback role next to Sekagya. Now, yes, Sekagya hasn’t always been the most confidence-inspiring defender on our roster, but he reads the game impeccably well. I can’t count on my fingers and toes the number of times I’ve seen him in a one-on-one situation where I was CONVINCED he would get skinned, only for him to come away with the ball. Putting Miazga alongside him would allow the kid to learn from Sekagya’s positional sense, and further develop into the player that the organization sees him becoming. He showed glimpses last year, as did Duvall – another young player who should be getting significant time again next year – of becoming a quality MLS defender, possibly even international caliber. His boneheaded red card against New England in the middle of the season became the death knell for Miazga’s starting role, but hopefully was the springboard to a better and smarter player come 2015. Miazga won’t be the only one who needs to step up, the other will be….likely someone we pick up in the international market. I still don’t see Armando getting the starting spot just yet – barring an impeccable preseason – as he still hasn’t fully gelled into the system. Which is why I was dumbfounded that the club hasn’t tried to acquire any of the numerous veteran defenders who were up for selection in the Waiver or Re-Entry Drafts, even if only for some competition and depth. Heck I would have taken another flier on Jeff Parke! Hopefully this lack of moves for proven, experienced, MLS players has tipped RBNY’s hand and they are, in fact, planning on going towards what is my third offseason focus….
Embrace the youth movement, and MEAN it this time. There have been times when the idea of a youth movement began, and then sputtered to a disappointing halt. The drafting of players like Connor Lade, Eric Stevenson, and Ian Christianson made the fanbase hold their collective breath that with proper development, we might have some players in our squad with some youth, and possibly some long-term consistency. Alas, that hasn’t quite panned out yet. With the rhetoric coming down from the Red Bull overlords that the departure of Henry will also bring along a change in philosophy – that the club was going to turn to youth, experience, and under-the-radar talent to breathe life into the squad. The signing of Homegrown talent Sean Davis has been the first significant move that has backed up these claims. Anyone else remember Matt Kassel? The RBNY product – who also attended Maryland University – and was barely given a sniff of the team before being unceremoniously dumped on the side of I-95? Here’s to hoping Sean Davis isn’t treated the same way. Pundits who follow the college game are optimistic about Davis, having played four years at Duke University and captaining them as well. Petke has been open to giving the youngsters in his squad some leeway to show their worth (Duvall, Oyongo, Obekop, Meara, Lade), and would be wise to continue down this path. Be on the lookout for young-DP quality to bring in, continue to develop Stevenson and Christianson, and build for the future as well – so every fourth year we’re not blowing the roster up and starting from scratch. It seems as if RBNY is late to the party in regards to identifying, understanding and acting upon league-wide trends – we’re all of a sudden on board with having a USL team again, interested in bringing in lesser-known but likely more economical talent, etc., etc. With the bevy of reports coming out saying that the club understands that these changes are necessary in order to find success in an increasingly competitive MLS, I for one believe this will be the shot in the arm the club needs.
And finally, the fourth and final offseason focus: Do Your Homework! The club has embarrassingly stepped in its fair share of cow patties over the years (Branco, Lothar Matthaus, 1PM games in July, Rafa Marquez, misunderstanding of yellow card suspension rules, etc.), and this needs to stop. Whether it be Petke’s embarrassing gaffe of not knowing, and not attempting to clarify, the rules as they pertained to yellow-card accumulation suspensions in the playoffs – making our efforts in Foxboro that much more difficult – or the boneheaded acquisition of a player like Bobby Convey – who was widely known to be past his sell-by date, and even more notoriously a cancer in the locker room – these things need to stop. If we want to pull in crowds like Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, and SKC, we’ve got to be smart about our moves, about understanding the league structure, the acquisition mechanisms we can/should use, and so forth. Installing Petke as the manager was a good first step. Keeping Robin Fraser was another masterstroke. The recent news that Ali Curtis, one-time Tampa Bay Mutiny, Scum, and Dallas Burn striker, has joined the club to replace Andy Roxburgh as Sporting Director plays right into my last point above – what has been shown is that those who have played in this league are very well equipped to understand and run club operations. Not much experience on the club management side of things, but Curtis has been with the league itself in a corporate role (Sr. Director of Player Relations & Competition). Might he be the guy who holds the knowledge of the league and its machinations for us to reach the next level of success in the league? Let’s hope so. As we delve into the offseason, I promise to be more current with the content of the site and look forward to bringing you more RBNY/Metro related content like this, but also more offbeat and quirky football/soccer ephemera (my take on this FIFA World Cup bidding mess, the African Cup of Nations scare with ebola, etc.) so stay tuned!!
Hands clasped we pray for olé….and a solid, intelligent offseason from which our squad can grow in 2015!! Oh, and more of this next year, always more of this: