6 Reasons Why the New York Red Bulls Will Win the MLS Cup
With so much of the focus in this still young MLS season on either Kansas City, Salt Lake City or even the defending champions in Los Angeles, the remarkable has actually come true.
The New York Red Bulls are flying under the radar.
Of course, it's partly their own fault. Underachievers for so long now, prognosticators could be forgiven for dismissing Hans Backe's side.
Yet this season, I'm going out on a limb. I'll say that they finally reach their potential.
Here are six reasons why.
1. The Improved Back Line
After the departure of Tim Ream to Bolton Wanderers, many saw the Red Bulls defense as a liability.
Yet they've managed to pitch back-to-back shutout wins against a talented New England offense and the defending champion Galaxy (a game which was in L.A.)
If any team ever aspires to win a championship, it starts with their defense. And with Brandon Barklage playing brilliantly over the last few games, New York seems to be patching the holes nicely.
2. Juan Agudelo
At only 19 years of age, Juan Agudelo still has a lot of developing to do as a player.
Yet he's undoubtedly a force already, flashing talent and the ability to dominate excitedly.
Paired with a certain Frenchman (who we'll probably get to), he could be a perfect weapon to unleash against tired legs in the playoffs.
Following the USA's disappointing failure to qualify for the Olympics, Agudelo will have no distractions.
3. Strength in Numbers
Usually injuries to a team are seen as a hindrance, but when sprawled across the long MLS season, they can actually be an advantage (to an extent).
Having prominent players miss games has the silver lining of throwing inexperienced players into the limelight, forcing them to step up.
In the long run, New York's injury woes could build a larger corps of reliable players for Hans Backe to rotate and use at different moments.
This has already been happening, as nearly every major player in the team has missed time, yet New York has managed to keep winning.
4. Ryan Meara
Meara, New York's 31st pick in this year's draft, has already shown himself to be a goalie with vast potential.
And at only 21, he seems to be reaching it quicker than expected.
The 6'4" shot-stopper has played with remarkable poise (especially in the win against L.A.)
Many have already said that he was the missing ingredient that was so desperately needed last season.
With all of the injury woes creating a lineup perpetually in flux, it's vital to have a reliable goalie like Meara.
5. Hans Backe
He's very quietly one of the most qualified coaches in MLS (maybe even the most qualified), but still most fans tend to forget about Hans Backe.
They focus far more on the stars that play in his team. Yet as any talented club has shown, they aren't able to win with talent alone.
Molding a star-studded squad into champions takes time. And with two seasons now under his belt, Backe is slowly finding the pieces.
He's won nearly everywhere that he's gone, and I'm betting that New York will be another success for the Swede.
6. Thierry Henry
Thierry Henry. Really, I don't need to say more beyond just uttering his name.
That alone strikes enough fear into the hearts of MLS defenders, but why stop there?
He's been on fire in 2012. With nine goals and five assists in only eight games, the numbers tell the story (mostly).
What they don't fully explain is his true dominance and class.
His goal against New England (where he ran onto a bouncing ball and deftly lifted it over Revolution keeper Matt Reis) was done with such precision and calm that he genuinely looked like he wasn't impressed.
Which is funny, because he was probably the only one in the stadium who wasn't awed by such a goal.
Nothing can truly measure his value to the Red Bulls. Sure, they can win without him, but with him, they become a force in the league capable of winning the whole thing.