The New York Red Bulls recent surge into playoff contention deserves applause. The team was devoid of inspiration during the long summer.
Between June and August, the group only won three games and had a record of 3-6-4 (13 pts).
In the final week of the regular season, the Bulls stand on the cusp of a thirteenth straight postseason with first full year manager Gerhard Struber.
Struber’s constant shifting of formations, especially around injuries, has allowed different players to come alive in the most critical stretch. Players like Omir Fernandez, Patryk Klimala, and the returning Cristian Cásseres all looked great in the near undefeated run during October. Goalkeeper Carlos Coronel has gone from keeping the team’s goal differential positive to keeping them a playoff contender.
To not get swept up in the hype would be crazy. But it just so happens there are people like that. There is an uncomfortable truth some RBNY fans have to be wondering during these last games. Something that might go against the onus of a fan’s primary tenant of supporting their team.
Is making the playoffs detrimental to the New York Red Bull’s future and development?
It’s a tricky question to ask but not one that is uncommon in the American sports landscape. Last season alone in the NHL, plenty of New York Ranger fans questioned if making the playoffs as a wildcard was worth it as the team continues to rebuild. In the NFL, some fans want their teams to lose games late in the season to get a better draft position. The idea that success is bad is so alien to the world of soccer across the globe, though.
But, like the Rangers last year, the Red Bulls are a team in transition. Besides the struggles during the summer, the group has missing pieces and will be losing more at the end of the year. Caden Clark is already leaving and is technically a loan player right now before he ends up in Europe at the end of the season. The Red Bulls are also stuffed with loans and will not be able to sign each one back.
Things like a possible overhaul at the left-back position or the hunt for new midfielders are on the horizon.
So would a playoff appearance help or hurt the team? Not the fan base or local interest, but the team itself going forward?
Think of two scenarios moving forward and consider how many moving parts New York has right now.
In the first, the Red Bulls make the playoffs, and the season ends. Let’s ignore how far they go, but I’m not sure many fans truly think RBNY will win MLS Cup. Players like Fábio and Tom Edwards will have loan options coming up. The former’s club, Oeste, is still dealing with relegation in Brazil and struggling. For the right price might be worth keeping. But there are a few signs New York might be looking elsewhere. Things like Omar Sowe being signed and Patryk Klimala’s continued emergence.
But if the team makes the playoffs, there is a chance someone in management stays a course. He is keeping the striker, who leads New York in assists, for one more year. That could be good, and maybe he starts to become more of a proven goal scorer next season.
Now, think if New York fails to win either of its remaining games this season. Would the idea of bringing back Fábio be as attractive? It might be worth it if Oeste will sell him for cheaper, which a team in their position may do. But the idea would shift away from the form being good enough and improvable to the deal being right. What about Edwards, who is still on loan from Stoke City? During the summer slump, though, Edwards was massively exposed. Injuries to players like Clark and Aaron Long meant more formation swaps. He shifted to center back instead of his normal spot on the right, and height came into play a lot.
While it’s been reported that management is keen to keep Edwards, there is also word he might be excited to head home following the end of the season.
New York Red Bulls could look to make Tom Edwards’ loan move from Stoke City permanent in the not too distant future, as per @StokeCityLive.
? Over 50 apps for Potters.
? Under contract till 2024.
? Impressive loan.
— Chris Thorpe (@ChrisThorpe_) October 6, 2021
So, if New York falls at the finish line to make the postseason which direction would the pendulum swing? Management could see him as a valuable piece in a still-growing side. With the addition of new pieces in the back, Edwards would be an exceptional buy from Stoke. But the slow summer, Edward’s own desire to return home, and no postseason might make it moot.
At the end of the day, this all is speculation and fan opinion. Wanting your team not to make the playoffs is a tricky thing. It’s obvious some in the fanbase actually want this outcome. The vocal majority outnumbers this group, though. It’s not likely New York will have a home playoff match, so the regular season finally will be that explosion of support.
New York plays Atlanta United FC tonight in Harrison. A win would secure that postseason spot many fans wrote off during the summer.
The Red Bulls have only lost one time against ATL in their previous 11 matches, with the lone defeat coming in the first leg of the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals. They have never fallen to the former MLS Cup Champions at home (record of 3-0-1 across all competitions).
Featured Image: New York Red Bulls