Five New York Red Bulls' players pose following a training session "tournament" win during January 2023 preseason.
Members of the New York Red Bulls, including academy goalkeeper Aidan Stokes (second from right), pose following a preseason training session (Credit: New York Red Bulls)

The New York Red Bulls’ 2023 preseason is here. Fans will not have long to wait before the Major League Soccer season starts next month. A chance to make a 14th consecutive postseason appearance and two additional in-season tournaments are all at stake. But that doesn’t mean the offseason has been easy.

Saying goodbye to team captain Aaron Long being chief among the reasons. The defender’s contract came to an end following the team’s loss to FC Cincinnati in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Prior to and during the FIFA World Cup, which Long was with the USA for, rumors spread about him leaving. The top choices being between England or Los Angeles. In the end, the latter option turned out to be true. Long officially signed with defending MLS Cup champions Los Angeles FC on January 4th. He followed in the footsteps of another RBNY legend, Bradley Wright-Phillips, who went to the West Coast following his departure from the team.

Long became the fifth team captain to leave the team since 2016. Of that group, all left the club (via trade or contract expiration) within two years of wearing the armband.

However while fans are sad to see a long-time favorite leave there isn’t much anger towards Long about the choice. The one-time Supporter’s Shield champions and USL Cup champion (with RBNY II) battled to return following a season-ending injury in 2021. While his 2022 wasn’t anything amazing, the effort helped endure him to the fanbase. Even more-so than he already was.

Honestly, going to the defending MLS Champions is going to be exciting to watch. Long is easily going to slot into a veteran defender role on a team looking to avoid a cup hangover. With a Champions League spot that means an earlier start to the season. A perfect time to show up following a quiet World Cup where he never saw a minute on the field.

Outside of that Caden Clark, Kyle Duncan, and Elias Manoel all saw their loans expire following the end of last season. Manoel was officially signed from Brazilian side Gremio earlier this month through 2025 (with an extension available). While he only played six games, he slotted easily into Gerhard Struber’s ever-shifting systems. With a high ceiling locking down the 21-year-old for multiple seasons is solid play.

Duncan, however, is a more questionable situation. The Brooklyn native returned to Harrison on loan from Belgian side K.V. Oostende. During his ten games the right-back never looked comfortable. Defensively liable and the target of multiple attacks. If anything, Duncan’s value dropped while he was back with his former club.

With that, it seems all but set he’ll be back fully for 2023 as well! Reports are stating Duncan will be back for another loan spell, with an option to purchase. This, combined with the few academy signings and re-signing Dylan Nealis, points to the team trying to make quick fixes in the back. Long being gone means the team has a large, tall hole at center-back. Until that’s properly filled, expect an influx of wing backs and non-typical types to go into the role.

Long’s injury from early 2021 is a good example for how this works. Tom Edwards tried to fill in at center and was exposed constantly. To this day I still believe that experience soured him on coming back to New York and wanting to return to Stoke.

One new face joining the fold is one with a familiar name. Two-Time ACC Midfielder of the Year Peter Stroud officially signed a Homegrown contract with the team on Saturday, January 14, confirming much speculation. The Duke  midfielder was a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy finalist this past season. Prior to college, Stroud had played in the RBNY academy including caps with the U-23 team in USL League Two.

He’s remained in League Two since departing the RBNY bubble. This past May, while playing for Tobacco Road FC (North Carolina), Stroud was named No. 1 prospect by the league. Of course, he is also the brother of former Bulls player and current St. Louis City SC star Jared Stroud.

“Peter has shown us many great qualities on and off the field,” said head coach Gerhard Struber in a press release. “He is an exciting young talent, and we are really looking forward to having him on our roster for next season.”

But where will all these players get to prepare for the regular season? The preseason of course!

Following a start to preseason in New Jersey, the Bulls will head south for about two weeks. Training sessions will once again take place at IMG Academy in Bradenton, the team’s regular winter base. Two friendly exhibitions against Nashville SC (Jan. 21) and the USMNT Under-20s (Jan. 28) will happen at the campus.

Last season New York’s friendly against the U-20s ended in a 0-0 draw. The Nashville game meanwhile is a first time meeting in the preseason. The two MLS squads were set to clash back in 2021 but a COVID outbreak forced it to be canceled. The two teams will also meet in Tennessee for the regular season finally on Decision Day many months from now.

After this New York will head out to California to take part in the second-edition of the Coachella Valley Invitational. Games against Minnesota United FC (Feb. 11), Los Angeles Galaxy (Feb. 15), and San Jose Earthquakes (Feb. 18) will close out the training slate. Last year the team resembled most east coasters in their performance at Coachella. It ended with them looking bad and, possibly, with some regret. The team finished last in the six team table with a draw and two losses (0.33 PPG).

The New York Red Bulls will open the regular season proper on February 25 on the road. A rematch of last year’s U.S. Open Cup semifinal against Orlando City SC awaits the squad in their first competitive match of the year. The first home game at Red Bull Arena on March 4 is against Nashville SC.

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