Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls are ready to start what could be his final season. Credit: Getty Images
The real work for the Red Bulls begins now.
The Red Bulls were supposed to struggle to make the playoffs last year under first-year head coach Mike Petke. Instead of crashing, the team defied all expectations en route to capturing the Supporters Shield for the league’s best record. The disappointment of the Red Bulls losing in the first round of the playoffs mattered little as the team took its first trophy in franchise history.
Petke faces more pressure in 2014 than this time last year. It simply won’t be good enough to make the playoffs, now he has to win the MLS Cup.
“I would say for sure it’s always more [pressure]. It’s always more,” Petke said. “Last year was a whirlwind, it really was. I didn’t have a moment to breathe, to step back and say anything other than ‘What’s going on?’ ... I had that offseason to think about things like that. It’s been a little different this season now. So yes, the pressure has been amped [up]. I didn’t let the pressure sink in at all — only the pressure I put on myself. This year I have the pressure on myself and this year I realize the pressure [from] being on top is a lot more.”
The Red Bulls open the season Saturday night at Vancouver. The team’s home opener is March 15 against the Rapids.
We look at three story lines for the upcoming season ...
1. Revamped backline
The defense wasn’t a huge issue for the team last year, but that didn’t stop the front office from doing a complete overhaul of the back four.
Gone is central defender Markus Holgersson, a standout over the past two years at the position, along with regular starter Brandon Barklage. How right back Richard Eckersley and central defender Ibrahim Sekagya, who had a bad giveaway in the playoffs last year, jell will be of great importance to the squad.
In addition, recently acquired Spanish centerback Armando has looked good in preseason. He’s tough on the tackle and has been praised by teammates for his leadership.
2. One more season
Thierry Henry, the greatest player to ever suit up for the Red Bulls, is in the final year of his contract. His future beyond this year is anyone’s guess, although it is almost certain that if he does extend his stay it won’t be as a designated player. He had a slight dip last season, with just 10 goals. Henry and management remain mum on the looming decision.
“All I can see this year is seeing myself playing,” Henry said. “That’s it.”
3. Adding Convey
It was a relatively quiet offseason for the Red Bulls, but one of their bigger moves was bringing on board former World Cup veteran Bobby Convey.
The versatile Convey has played for the United States national team at left back and virtually everywhere in the midfield along with having a myriad of success at the club level.
Convey was once considered a teenage phenom, but the veteran is still just 31 years old and can bring some balance to the midfield. He brings competition to the outside of the left midfield where Jonny Steele was the consensus starter a year ago. But he can be slotted in centrally, as well.