After another early exit in the playoffs, the New York Red Bulls underwent sweeping changes to their roster.
The defense is a mystery. Will the endless revolving door at goalie ever be settled? With Rafa Marquez moving to the midfield and Tim Ream moving to England, who will step up in the center of the defense?
But something the Red Bulls did in abundance last year—although not always opportunistically—was score goals. The team was tied for second in the league in goals scored (50) with Sporting Kansas City and behind only the Seattle Sounders (56).
The team’s biggest acquisition in the offseason was another forward. It now has four forwards that would start on any club. The depth is necessary, though, due to the constant questionable status of the players’ availabilities.
The logjam on offense combined with the uncertainty of who will actually be around to play makes for one good question the Red Bulls should be excited to answer: who will score the most goals on the team in 2012?
Right away, with so much depth up top, it’s fair to say that forwards Corey Hertzog, Jose Angulo and Jhonny Artega won’t get much playing time and won’t be in the running.
Last year, six players—Thierry Henry, Luke Rodgers, Dane Richards, Joel Lindpere and Juan Agudelo—accounted for 43 of the team’s goals, or 86 percent. Add in Kenny Cooper to that group and there should be a large outpouring of offense.
Henry was the team’s leading goal scorer last year with 14 goals. He is the favorite to lead the attack again this year. With so much big game experience and talent at his feet, the French Designated Player is in the elite class of MLS players.
He’s fresh off a loan with Arsenal in the offseason, where he proved some critics wrong and showed that he still is a top-level player. In seven appearances with the club, he scored three goals, including two game-winners. He returns to the Red Bulls in shape, in form and healthy.
That health question is the big one for Henry, though. He played in only 26 games last season and his injuries seemed to flare up when the team went on the road and was going to play on artificial turf. Players coming over from Europe don’t like playing on that surface, but Henry is obviously an important player to the team and will have to play more games to really help the Red Bulls get over the hump.
Cooper, with Portland last season, scored eight goals. With greater individual talent surrounding him, he should be able to continue his success. His ability to use his size and play as a target forward should not only help the possession-obsessed Red Bulls, but allow Henry to make runs off of him and create great combination play.
Cooper has a lot working in his favor as far as playing time goes: He stays healthy and the other top options at forward could miss a lot of action this year.
Luke Rodgers was a revelation last year for New York. He scored nine goals (second on the team) and gave the team a toughness and attitude that has been missing for quite some time. He works well with Henry and brings a lot of energy to the pitch.
The problem is that his attitude in the past has gotten him into trouble. Those issues have come to head now as they have held up Rodgers’ work visa approval and return to the country.
A verdict was supposed to be reached Thursday, but no concrete outcome came of it. He will miss at least the season opener. No one is sure how long this process will take, reducing the number of games he could play in. This issue comes on top of Rodgers inability to stay healthy; he played only 23 games last year due to various injuries.
Rodgers can’t score if he can’t get on the field, and right now his outcome is not looking too good.
Juan Agudelo scored six goals last season, but he fell out of favor with the coaching staff fast. The emergence of Rodgers kept Agudelo on the bench. But even when Rodgers was injured, the coaching staff preferred to go with Richards as a forward and use Mehdi Ballouchy in the midfield then start Agudelo.
There is some speculation that coach Hans Backe is not a fan of young American players, which certainly does not bode well for Agudelo. The forward will also miss time this season to be with the US U-23 team in Olympic qualifying and possibly the Olympics.
It will be tough for the coaching staff to feel comfortable playing Agudelo, knowing he will be leaving them for a lengthy period of time and have to fill his spot. The more time Agudelo spends on the bench, the more frustrated he gets, and there have been some whispers that he will soon make a move to Europe.
The situation with Agudelo and the club could get ugly.
On the wings, Lindpere (seven goals) and Richards (seven) provide a lot of offense. Lindpere is the team’s most valuable player; he started every game, played all but 12 minutes the entire season, provides great service to the forwards (he was also tied for the team lead with seven assists) and knows when to go forward himself. His effort and durability keep him in the game and always makes him a threat.
Richards uses his great speed to get behind the defense or blowing past them with the ball. He’s very attack-minded but often makes poor decisions on the ball. He also is not as talented individually as some of the other players and relies on other teams focusing on them as well as their vision and passing skills to create more opportunities for himself.
So who stands out for the Red Bulls on offense? Henry seems to be the favorite with Cooper and Lindpere giving him a run for his money.
But with a defense as questionable and untested as the Red Bulls have, the New York offense will have to once again be a strong unit and score often to keep the team on the right track as they fight for their first-ever MLS Cup.