New York Red Bulls/Metrostars fans have had more downs than ups since the team's inception in 1996.
Their heated rivals at DC United have won an MLS record four MLS Championships in that time and DC's fans regularly like to remind their New York counterparts of their failings of 16 years—no cups.
2009 was an all time low for the Red Bulls, winning just five games and ending with the worst record in the whole league. Yet the franchise was able to turn itself around for 2010 and finished first place in the Eastern Conferences before being eventually bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the San Jose Earthquakes.
With that turnaround in fortunes and the addition of quality internationals Jan Gunnar Solli and Teemu Tainio joining an already impressive list of players, including former Barcelona stars Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez, team MVP Joel Lindpere and emerging US internationals Tim Ream and Juan Agudelo, expectations were high heading into the 2011 season.
In addition to a star studded roster already in place, General Manager Erik Soler pulled off a deal to bring in one of the leagues greatest talents, attacking midfielder/forward Dwayne De Rosario, to be the final piece of the puzzle.
Despite all the fire power at their disposal, the Red Bulls didn't come out of the gates firing on all cylinders and after four games of the season, the team had only scored two goals to go with its 1-1-2 record.
This poor start culminated with the disappointing 1-0 defeat to I-95 rivals the Philadelphia Union in a game where team captain Thierry Henry received considerable criticism from the teams supporters.
For the teams next game against San Jose, head coach Hans Backe inserted Englishman Luke Rogers up front with Henry for the first time and the two clicked instantly, with Rogers grabbing two goals and assisting Henry in the closing minutes for a resounding 3-0 victory.
It also marked the first time in Major League Soccer history that a team started with 11 players of 11 different nationalities.
But was this a one off scoreline or the start of something great?
It's appearing to look like the latter, as the Red Bull took the train down to DC and emerged with it's biggest ever win over their Atlantic Cup rivals. Henry scored twice (including his second header in two games, which is likely more headers than he ever scored at Arsenal), Joel Lindpere scored a fine goal before teenage sensation Juan Agudelo capped off the night with a sublime piece of individual brilliance.
The man Tainio replaced in the defensive midfield role, Rafa Marquez, has moved to center half where he originally made a name for himself at Barcelona and Mexico, and has formed a solid partnership with US international Tim Ream—so much so, the team has only conceded two goals all season.
With a roster full of internationals, two world famous superstars, a GM that can seemingly do no wrong, a magnificent stadium entering its second season and a seemingly endless supply of money coming from the ownership group in Austria, are the New York Red Bulls the team to emulate in the league?
Many will argue that Real Salt Lake are the best all round team in the league in terms of it's talent and cohesion. The Utah based club just became the first MLS club to reach the CONCACAF Champions League final. They currently sit top of the Western Conference, having won all their games in the league so far this season.
Other clubs will provide challenges too; last seasons champions, Colorado Rapids, have the talent to successfully defend their title. The LA Galaxy, the leagues first "Superclub" according to Alexi Lalas, also boast a roster of league proven talent.
Ultimately, the only way to measure a clubs greatness is on the field and by collecting trophies.
The New York Red Bulls players, staff and fans all know that to be regarded as a "superclub" in this league, they not only have to claim their first title, but build on that and have consistent success.
On paper, they have probably the greatest collection of talent in the league. But championships aren't won on paper and the highest payroll does not guarantee anything.
One stumbling block the team will face this season is international call ups, with six of the starting players current internationals (this would be higher, except Scandinavians Lindpere, Solli and Tainio have declared themselves unavailable for international call-ups while playing in New York).
Hans Backe will need to ensure his full roster is ready to fill in during these times and vetaran back up players such as Carlos Mendes, Carl Robinson and Mehdi Ballouchy will be vital during these times.
Young players such as John Rooney, Matt Kassel and Corey Hertzog may also be given their moment to show what they can do on the big stage if the teams is to be successful going forward.
The Red Bulls have shown in the last two games they can not only be winners, but can be convincing winners. Whether they can do so in November remains to be seen, but given the wealth of talent this club now possesses, it is really a case of MLS Cup or bust.
New York City loves a winning team and if this team is ever going to crack the column inches normally reserved for its nine other major professional sports teams, a championship is a must.
2011 may be the year.
17 years and no cups would now be simply unacceptable.
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