The New York Red Bulls finished the 2009 season in last place with a miserable 21 points, a 5-19-6 record, and a -20 goal differential. What a difference one offseason can make though, as only seven players on the roster at the end of last year remain on the roster and have not indicated an inclination to leave or retire.
Seth Stammler has announced he will be leaving the club to attend business school, Mike Petke plans to retire, John Wolyniec already retired following his release from the club, Mac Kandji was traded, and during halftime of the USA v. Colombia friendly on October 12, Juan Pablo Angel told a somewhat startled Alexi Lalas that he probably would not return to the club next year live on ESPN2 (Lalas commended Angel for his enexpected candor via tweet the next morning).
That leaves Carlos Mendes, Danleigh Borman, Jeremy Hall, Bouna Coundoul, Dane Richards, Luke Sassano, and Andrew Boyens as the only players leftover from 2009. With two expansion clubs joining MLS next season, it would not be surprising if Borman, Hall, Sassano, or Boyens were with another club to start next season as well.
While Hans Backe has generated a lot of attention and praise (and even Manager of the Year buzz) for his consistent approach and ability to turn a struggling team around on the field, a lot of credit has to go Sporting Director Eric Soler who, along with Backe, manages the roster and has brought in new players that compliment each other well even before the major signings of Henry and Marquez.
The backline has had three new faces in Chris Albright, Roy Miller, and rookie of the year candidate Tim Ream. Joel Lindpere and rookie Tony Tchani have been huge difference makers in the midfield. And more recently and much more publicized, the signings of Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez have brought skill and international attention to the club that is commonly absent from even the most competitive MLS sides.
Another recent arrival is attacking midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy who was traded from Colorado in return from Mac Kandji. The Red Bulls were almost able to secure the services of Notts County forward Luke Rodgers before the transfer window closed, but Visa issues (the passport stamp, not the credit card) kept him in England for the time being. A January signing is now expected. The club has also showed interest in Swedish winger/midfielder Jan Gunnar Solli. With the expected departure of Angel, the Red Bulls will also open up their third designated player spot and would most likely bring in an attacking playmaker or striker.
While it’s fun and interesting to speculate on next season, one thing is for sure: Backe and Soler have completed one of the most impressive team turnarounds in MLS history. We’ll be watching closely over the next few weeks to see not only how the Red Bulls close out the season and make a run for the MLS cup, but also for clues on how the team might change and adjust for a successful follow-up 2011.