2016 was bittersweet for many New York Red Bulls fans. They finished top in the Eastern Conference in spite of a 1-6-0 start. There conference winning run earned them a first-round playoff bye and saw them finish three points shy of their third Supporter’s Shield. Multiple blown leads frustrated NYRB fans. 2016 culminated in an early playoff exit to the dismay of the fans.
If you just utilized Red Bull players on your fantasy team, then you likely had quite the bountiful season. Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan had career years statistically. Wright-Phillips lead MLS in scoring and Kljestan in assists. It wasn’t just the offense that generated all of the fantasy production. Goalkeeper Luis Robles led MLS with 10 shutouts. Aurelien Collin, a midseason addition, was a bonus-point machine. Dax McCarty and Felipe were both phenomenal in deeper midfield roles with plenty of defensive bonus points in addition to the occasional offensive contribution.
For the first several months, it was very quiet. Other than the occasional 2016 re-signing, there wasn’t very much news coming out of the front office. That all changed three weeks ago when team captain and fan-favorite McCarty was traded to the Chicago Fire. This stunning deal netted the Red Bulls $400k in allocation money over two seasons. We will unpack the tactical impact of that deal further down in this piece, but the trade gives New York a substantial amount of money to utilize in the future.
The Red Bulls aren’t afraid to spend money as long as they believe the player will fit within their system. The club is already in camp and preparing for their February 22nd CCL match against the Vancouver Whitecaps. I wouldn’t expect any major signings to be made between now and then. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see them make a splash move in the summer. They have the money to replicate Seattle’s signing of Nicolas Lodeiro.
Manager Jesse Marsch toyed with a 4-2-2-2 in 2016 and it has been used in each of their preseason friendlies thus far. One of the hallmarks of New York’s particular brand of high-pressing is their width. Marsch’s defensive scheme demands control of the center of the pitch and remain very narrow, to force their opponents wide. Once pushed out wide, the Red Bulls swarming defense collapses on the ball and attempts to force a turnover. Re-possession in an advantageous position allows for a switch to a quick counter-attack. Should opponents manage to advance into the final third, it will be by moving the ball into the corner. This typically ends with the Red Bulls’ formidable center-backs clearing away a low-percentage cross.
The Red Bulls have deployed the above scheme to great effectiveness within the 4-2-3-1 over the last two seasons. The biggest benefit of a switch to a 4-2-2-2 is that it allows them to continue to utilize the same defensive scheme while adding additional wrinkles in the attack. BWP has drastically improved his hold-up play over the last three seasons. Gonzalo Veron playing alongside him could greatly benefit his game. Veron has received a great deal of ire from the fanbase over the last year and a half, but he has shown occasional flashes of brilliance. If he is able to avoid injury and get on the same page as BWP and Kljestan, he could be in for a big year.
Speaking of Kljestan, I expect him to pick up right where he left off last season. He will continue to pull the strings for New York and should be one of the highest-owned players at the start of the season. Daniel Royer and Mike Grella will contend for the midfield position opposite of Kljestan. Alex Muyl should see some action as well. Meanwhile, Sean Davis replaces former captain McCarty in the midfield alongside Felipe. Davis put in several good shifts while Dax was injured last summer and impressed the front office. He could be a good sleeper pick this season for teams looking to fill out their 4th or 5th midfield slot with a defensive midfielder.
Fan-favorite Collin will anchor a back line that gave up the second-fewest goals in the Eastern Conference in 2016. Collin and Damien Perrinelle are currently the favorites to start the season. Left-back and Jamaica international Kemar Lawrence looks to bounce back from an underwhelming 2016 campaign. the right-back position is currently up for grabs, with Sal Zizzo and Connor Lade the current front-runners.
Red Bulls Starting Lineup Prediction
The Red Bulls are still dealing with injuries they received during 2016. Training camp lineups are pretty fluid currently. Nevertheless, here is how I expect the club to line up in Atlanta on March 5th.
This lineup should not hold throughout the season. Expect Baah to take over as one of the two starting center-backs. Lade may win back the starting right back job once he is fully healthy. While Muyl appears to be the odd man out in the switch to the 4-2-2-2, I expect to see quite a bit more of him in 2017. I could see him make a switch to fullback to best utilize his massive work rate. Additionally, as I mentioned above, the Red Bulls have a DP slot and plenty of allocation money. Don’t be shocked to see them make a couple of moves during the summer that would shake up the starting lineup by the season’s end.
Long story short, I expect another successful campaign for the New York Red Bulls. Both within MLS and from a fantasy perspective. BWP and Kljestan will have high price tags, but expect strong performances to validate their pricing, especially at home. Veron, Royer, and Davis are also potential breakout players this season, and should be reasonably priced. This list of players benefits the most from a hot start to 2017.
Defensively, I prefer diversification, and it’s tough to say which RBNY players will bring the most value at the moment. Prices aside, however, Robles and Collin are the early favorites for top defensive scorers this season.