New York Red Bulls 2014 Season Preview: 4 Things to Watch for This Season
In part 17 of our 19-part series, we will take an in-depth look at the most intriguing plots surrounding the Red Bulls this season. The number and player to watch, as well as the match that should immediately be circled on your calendar will be delved into with great detail.
Read on for your comprehensive guide to 2014.
Note: Unless otherwise mentioned, credit all statistics to Squawka. All data collected is licensed from Opta Sports.
Before we preview the coming year, here is MLS' complete list of offseason acquisitions and departures that helped mold this season's version of the club.
|M||Bobby Convey||Trade from Toronto|
|D||Richard Eckersley||Trade from Toronto|
|D||David Carney||Option Declined|
|D||Brandon Barklage||Option Declined|
|D||Heath Pearce||Out of Contract|
|F||Armando Moreno||Out of Contract|
|F||Fabian Espindola||Option Declined|
|D||Markus Holgersson||Contract Terminated|
The Story to Watch: Thierry Henry's Future
You won't find a bigger story to follow in MLS all season.
Now 36 years young, Thierry Henry is entering the final year of his contract with the New York Red Bulls. For four years, the Frenchman added to his legend as the club's captain and aided in capturing its first-ever major trophy in 2013. A contract extension, however, did not come with it and set off rampant speculation in regard to his future with New York.
Despite the current status of his contract, Henry hinted that this isn't the last you'll see of him in an interview with Sky Sports (h/t to New York Post):
I am trying to finish my career, which is something I really have to concentrate on. This is my last year, actually, the one coming. I am not saying I am retiring. I'm saying that's my last year on paper, to make it clear.
Sporting director Andy Roxburgh echoed that sentiment:
This is the last year of this particular contract, but there's no reason why he couldn't extend it. Right now, I don't think he's thinking like that, because when I sat down with him when the season finished, I just asked him straight, "So you're playing next season?" Immediately as soon as I asked, "Yes," he said, "I'm very optimistic about the way things are going, and I want to be involved in it." That was enough. If he comes away with the same reaction next year, who knows?
What we do know—according to Franco Panizo on MLS's official website—is that contract negotiations are yet to take place between Henry and the Red Bulls brass. Those talks are said to be coming at some point during the season.
Just don't expect it to remove focus from the Metro legend, as specified by head coach Mike Petke:
Obviously, Thierry wants to focus on the now and focus on this season, getting off to a good start. He's continuing to do well in preseason and I think that's the farthest thing on his mind, to be honest with you. I think we'd all be foolish not to realize that at some point, midseason on, there will most certainly be discussions. There has to be. But at this stage right now, Thierry is doing a great job at prioritizing that it's all about the now and he understands that there's going to be questions and opinions. But until that point comes that both sides, Thierry and his representatives and us, feel that we need to address it, we're focusing on this preseason right now and the beginning of the season.
Even with a 37th birthday to come midseason, Henry has shown a propensity to ascend over MLS competition—the same competition he praised in an interview with ESPN FC (h/t to official MLS website) during the offseason. His aging legs managed to contribute 66 key passes in 2013. Only Federico Higuain had more as a forward (106).
The future remains an unknown. What is known, however, is that Henry will continue to put his world-class talent on display in 2014.
Enjoy it while you can.
The Number to Watch: 15
It's a love-hate relationship with Peguy Luyindula.
Playing atop the formation, the 34-year-old scored just one goal in 2013. Plaguing Luyindula's form last season was dreadful miss...after dreadful miss...after dreadful miss. He would've finished with zero if not for a gracious gesture from Thierry Henry.
It took one performance to eradicate all of it.
In New York's shield-clinching victory over the Chicago Fire last season, Luyindula featured in a more central role behind the strike partnership of Henry and Tim Cahill. What followed was a masterful display of lethal distribution. Three of his 33 successful passes finished past goalkeeper Sean Johnson, none more beautifully than Henry's equalizer in the first half.
In one 90-minute shift, Peguy found his new role.
Of the 15 total chances he created in 2013, four alone came in the most important match in club history.
According to EmpireOfSoccer's Dave Martinez, Coach Petke believes Luyindula has the proper skill set to increase that total by various multiples in 2014:
If I only had one wish, we would have got him 10 years ago. But for his age and what we expect out of him, we are very satisfied with Peguy...Peguy sitting behind the forward, then getting forward, commanding the ball, commanding the field a bit, I was glad with what I saw out of him. He has a great attitude. When he has the ball at his feet to hold it, there are not many guys in this league that have the experience and the ability to hold the ball like that.
Pot-luck dreams and rumors swirled, per Brian Lewis of the New York Post, in the offseason, pinning Barcelona midfielder Xavi with a move to the Red Bulls this summer. The 34-year-old was also rumored to be heading to a club that has never kicked a ball, per Dermot Corrigan of ESPN FC, let alone get its logo situated. Take those rumors with a grain of salt.
But while Xavi would prove to be the dream signing the Tri-state area craves, the reality is that Luyindula will have to be the one pulling the strings in the Red Bulls' midfield this season.
That's a proposition that should no longer frighten the Red Bulls faithful.
The Player to Watch: Lloyd Sam
Looks like Lloyd Sam finally got the message.
The 29-year-old struggled to lock down a starting spot at his natural right midfield position last season. His absence in the opening three matches of 2013—especially after two impressive performances in 2012—was as enigmatic as it was frustrating.
But that didn't refrain Coach Petke from sending a message to Sam, this according to Dave Martinez of EmpireofSoccer:
Lloyd Sam. Like I said many times, Lloyd Sam played in two games for us last year and yes he did well for those two games and had an unfortunate injury. I am waiting for Lloyd to get back to fitness and at a mentality level where we want him to be at to be ready. When he does do that, he will be a part of the starting XI or be part of the 18 for sure.
It didn't happen overnight, but Sam would eventually earn first-choice minutes. He featured as a starter in five of New York's final eight regular season matches. An iconic goal in the aforementioned 5-2 victory was punctuated by iconic words that denoted his official inclusion into the Red Bulls' nucleus.
Franco Panizo carried the story on MLS's official website:
I can't remember the exact words, but it was probably just like what he's told me when me and him talk: Things have changed, basically. I've turned a corner and I've got nothing to prove anymore. It's been like that the last couple of months. I've been involved more … and now I feel a part of the team.
Despite having nothing to prove, Sam continues to demonstrate he's officially a key part of the team. A stellar start to the preseason only elevated the Englishman's status entering the 2014 campaign. Should he remain healthy, surpassing his 10 MLS starts will be of relative ease.
The Match to Watch: New York Red Bulls vs. Seattle Sounders
Regional rivalries are typically the highly anticipated matches you desperately circle whenever a new schedule is released. Especially when it involves the Red Bulls and D.C. United. Not this year, however.
Not when there are a pair of salivating inter-conference clashes awaiting Red Bull Arena in 2014.
The early favorite upon New York's schedule release was the Portland Timbers' visit to Harrison, New Jersey on May 24. The two opened their 2013 campaigns with an enthralling 3-3 draw at the venue formerly known as JELD-WEN Field. Adding to the allure of this confrontation is the pedigree both clubs currently possess. The two finished atop their respective conferences last season.
But the grandeur is missing from this potential MLS Cup preview.
It's currently scheduled for a local broadcast on a Saturday night. That won't be the case on Sept. 20 when the Seattle Sounders return to Red Bull Arena.
The mid-afternoon clash comes complete with nationally televised coverage on NBC and two clubs that are as perplexing as they are lavish. There's also the added bonus of Kenny Cooper returning to the locale responsible for the most heartbreaking moment of his career.
And we haven't even touched on the potential Supporters' Shield implications that might be at play here.
Big names. Big TV audience. Big potential for a memorable afternoon.
Eduardo Mendez is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist and analyst for Opta Sports. Follow him on Twitter for more insight on a variety of sports topics. Follow @Mendez_FC