There’s no denying that vibes around the New York Red Bulls have improved immensely since Troy Lesesne has taken over. Despite still being under the playoff line, performance is on the uptick. The team has won double the amount of games in two weeks than it had in two months.

That’s not even including the U.S. Open Cup performances while dealing with injury and roster turnover.

Is it really that simple, though? Did the firing of Gerhard Struber really make that much of a difference?

Speaking in terms of tactics over the last five games, nothing feels revolutionary different. That might be more due to the numerous injuries plaguing the team currently. Lewis Morgan, Kyle Duncan, and Luquinhas were unavailable for most games.

That meant a renewed shifting of bodies up top, with Tom Barlow playing as a lone striker in multiple matches. Elias Manoel and Cory Burke, meanwhile, have been seen as second-half substitution forwards. Barlow has not found the back of the net but did assist on the game-winning goal vs. D.C. in the Open Cup. Burke, on the other hand, has been seeing a bit more use. Despite struggling on receiving passes, the Jamaican national team player has been threating up top when available. Just his presence alone distracts backlines. His game-winning goal against Montreal last week, his second of the year, was a prime example. Pulling between two defenders and just staying onside, he tapped in a pass from Cristian Cásseres Jr…

In previous weeks, Burke was being used as a battering ram forward. Now, especially in recent games as a second-half sub, he’s been more adaptable.

Again, this all is because of the New York Red Bulls player situation. Luquinhas only recently returned as a second-half sub against F.C. Cincinnati in the Open Cup. Morgan is listed as “questionable” for tonight’s game. Five more players are still listed as “out.”

That also includes Daniel Edelman, who last played in the Hudson River Derby win vs. NYCFC. He’s been off with the United States men’s national under-20 soccer team in Argentina. While the homegrown hasn’t found the back of the net, Edelman has been noteworthy. He served as captain for multiple 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup group-stage games. Now the team heads to the knockout round. It seems as though Quarterfinals are at least the goal here, but silverware will always be the dream on an international stage.

In terms of endurance, seven players have played in all six matches since the loss to Philadelphia. Lesesne is using his players in different places to help account for the lack of rest in these last few weeks. Struber would have probably used a lot of Red Bull II callups in odd positions to try and fill in gaping holes. It’s hard to explain, but seeing a team adapt rather than shoving a different piece into the meet grinder means something.

Even with the Open Cup defeat, Lesesne is still “undefeated” as New York Red Bulls head coach. The penalty kick shootout loss will officially go down as a draw after 120 minutes. It remains to be seen how long this “streak” lasts, and I doubt he cares. Positive results, even in defeat, seem to be on the table at this point in the season.

It won’t help attendance in the short term, however. New York is 25th in terms of league attendance this season, with just under 17,000 per game. That is also just the announced attendance, with visuals in the stadium itself usually looking a few thousand under the official total. Troy and his boys, plus front office management itself, have a lot of work ahead to try and bring people back to Harrison. There are arguments to be had regarding the happiness of the hardcore vs. the appeasement of the general public. The recent support’s protests against Gerhard Struber had no real bearing on his leaving the team. Nor did the protests affect the overall apathy surrounding RBNY in northern New Jersey and NYC. So again, the team can continue to try and garner the temperamental support of locals with various promotions and partnerships.

There’s a balance to be found here. Get the casuals who don’t care who the coach is and the fans who want a better product on the field. Finding it will always be difficult for Red Bull Global. It remains to be seen if the latter group actually comes out for a renewed summer playoff push.

New York is on the West Coast tonight and playing Seattle Sounders FC. On Wednesday, May 31, they make the longest trip possible in MLS on short rest to Inter Miami CF in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. A home match against Orlando City SC on June 3rd is the final piece of this three-week gauntlet. The team will be off for a few weeks in June for the FIFA International Window.

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