With one goal, albeit a spectacular stoppage-time one, the New York Red Bulls season concluded last weekend.
The Philadelphia Union eliminated RBNY from the MLS Cup Playoffs down in Chester, PA, 1-0, putting a period to what has been a weird year.

A first-year head coach and more loans than you could shake a stick at. In the end, Red Bulls fans probably felt every possible emotion during 2021. Despair and numbness, hope and promise, the thrill of victory and the familiar agony of defeat.

Head coach Gerhard Struber is seemingly locked into returning next season. Over his career, he’s never spent more than 1.5 years at a club he’s managed. Now fans will soon get to see Struber fully craft a roster. He now has first-hand experience with the players from 2022 and can fully know who he wants where.

Struber’s work this year has not gone unnoticed. Coaching carousels in Europe have reportedly attracted the team’s attention to Harrison. 2 Bundesliga side Werder Bremen is the latest in showing interest in the Austria native after reports of English interest earlier this year. However, multiple sources have also claimed Struber is “comfortable in New York” and has no interest in jumping ship.

Photo: MLS

It’s not hard to see why others have an interest. Struber was working with a still rebuilding team that had injuries piling on by the dozen despite the summer slump. The consistent shuffling lineups and perceived planning for the future, IE signing Omar Sowe, while also making the playoff push, isn’t easy to pull off.

As for the players themselves, it’s hard not to crack a smile thinking about how much the team improved in the final two months. Players like Fábio were leading the team in assists but struggling to score. But he came up big against Montreal in a game RBNY needed to win in their playoff push. Patryk Klimala had a big second half to tie for the most goals by an RBNY player this season.

Even the midfield, which really hasn’t looked right in two seasons, started to gel. Omir Fernandez scored crucial goals, including one against NYCFC, while also being invaluable along the length of the pitch. His passing ability is catching up to his speed and making him a huge threat. Meanwhile, other regulars like Cristian Cásseres and Sean Nealis played their roles, leaving them as solid picks to return next year.

There are things to be thankful for, even in seemingly bad news. For one, many rumors swirling about RBNY players leaving have already come out. Both Tom Edwards and Kyle Duncan are reportedly weighing their options ahead of next year. Edwards’ loan from Stoke City is over, and reports indicate the 22-year-old wants to head back overseas this coming January.

But Edwards’ agent Gary Mellor has also made it known that New York is keen on bringing him back for 2022.

 “New York Red Bulls are very keen to sign him, and he’s loved it there, but he wants to train at Stoke and fight for his place,” Mellor said. “He’s had a great year in terms of experience on and off the pitch, and we’re looking forward to what happens next.”

Then there’s Duncan who’s stock admittedly slipped this past season. The Brooklyn, New York native and owner of a sole USMNT cap played in nearly every match this season. Despite the team’s summer slump and having one goal to his name Duncan has attracted interest. Flemish newspaper Nieuwsblad is reporting Belgian first division side KV Oostende are close to a free transfer. Duncan’s contract expires this winter after four seasons with New York.

Having these reports is better than the unknown surrounding the team’s other loanees. It’s been quiet in terms of what to expect for Fábio (Oeste), Carlos Coronel (Red Bull Salzburg), and Andrew Gutman (Atlanta United). All but Coronel had ups and downs this season, but they did prove themselves.

Plus, all of this isn’t including Caden Clark, who might even be re-loaned to RBNY  from RB Leipzig. The 18-year-old started the season hot but faltered after surgery sidelined him for nearly a month. The Bundesliga side might find it best to keep him in MLS to develop more rather than rushing him abroad as soon as possible.

RBNY head of sport Kevin Thelwell told Once a Metro that Clark’s future is still very much in play.

“There are still many conversations to be had,” He said. “What’s most important is what’s best for Caden.”

Fans can undoubtedly exit 2021 feeling better than they thought they would. Glaring holes and pieces will be dealt with during the offseason if players like Duncan, Edwards, and a few of the loans leave; Struber is now in a place where he might know better how to adjust and add.

On the other hand, perhaps fans can also be happy 2021 is over in general. The playoff appearance and great end of season do not mask the whole situation entirely. Worsening attendances, a general feeling of apathy, and team struggles at both ends were all constant fixtures during match fixtures. Fans could be thankful that they can now look towards 2022. Instead of just scraping into the playoffs, 2022 suggests that the team looks better all around and plays well all season.

The team’s 2022 home opener will be on March 13, 2022, against Minnesota United.

Featured Image: MLS
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