PREVIEW – The Red Bulls season preview turns the page into 2023. After 2022 saw a familiar ending with a first-round playoff exit, the front office got to work on retooling the squad. Head of Sport Joachen Schneider and coach Gerhard Struber went to work on retooling the squad with multiple signings. Now with more additions in attack, midfield and defense, the Red Bulls are deeper than last year and ready. Preseason evidence has seen them play a 4-2-2-2, which will give some teams headaches. But can they close the gap on the elite of the Eastern Conference? Here’s the Red Bulls 2023 season preview.
Key Departures: Aaron Long, Caden Clark, Patryk Klimala
Another offseason, another Red Bulls captain gone. Aaron Long leaves the club as one of its most accomplished and best defenders in franchise history after 175 appearances and 14 goals during his six seasons. The 2018 Defender of the Year has gone reigning MLS Cup champs LAFC. Caden Clark struggled for minutes after falling down the pecking order and being injured at times, he returned to RB Leipzig. As for Patryk Klimala, it simply couldn’t work. Moments of hard work and a few goals but unfortunately the high-end product was never a consistent presence, and left to Hapoel Be’er Sheva in Israel.
— Aaron Long (@A_LoLo12) January 3, 2023
Key Signings: Kyle Duncan, Peter Stroud, Cory Burke, Elias Manoel, Dante Vanzeir
The Red Bulls went to work in the offseason. Cory Burke comes in on a two year deal and should provide great veteran presence and depth on the front line. Kyle Duncan returns on loan from Belgium and will give competition to Cameron Harper and Dylan Nealis at right-back. There’s much hype around Peter Stroud given his accomplishments at Duke, with analysts suggesting he’ll get starting minutes in midfielder sooner rather than later. And of course, the big one, Belgium-international Dante Vanzeir from Union SG. With 48 goals and 21 assists in 91 appearances, he’s got the fire capable of taking this team to a higher level.
— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) February 3, 2023
Young Player to Watch: Peter Stroud
When Peter Stroud signed his homegrown deal with the Red Bulls, much buzz followed. The Chester, NJ native enters the team as a two-time ACC Midfielder of the Year (the first player ever to win it in back-to-back seasons) and was the runner-up MAC Hermann Trophy candidate – given to the best player in all of college soccer. In three years with the Blue Devils – 55 games, 6 goals and 12 assists as well as being All-ACC First Team twice.
“We are very happy to sign Peter to a homegrown contract,” Red Bulls sporting director Denis Hamlett said in a statement. “Peter is a talented midfielder that has demonstrated great success at both collegiate and academy levels, and we are very delighted to have him at our club.” Skilled and composed on the ball, he’ll get starts in the U.S. Open Cup and games in midweek. It’ll be fun to see his skillset in Struber’s system and connect well with whoever partners him in the middle of the field.
— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) January 14, 2023
“Peter has shown us many great qualities on and off the field,” RBNY head coach Gerhard Struber said. “He is an exciting young talent, and we are really looking forward to having him on our roster for next season.” There is clear upside for Peter Stroud. Given the depth in midfield, he’ll be sure to show his best to get ahead of veterans like Cristian Casseres Jr and Frankie Amaya. He’ll be one of the young players to watch in all of Major League Soccer.
The New York Red Bulls Season Preview for 2023
What can we expect of this defense without Aaron Long?
Aaron Long leaves the club as a legend, one of its best success stories coming from club academy to Best XI to club captain. His departure leaves a big hole at the heart of defense, making center-back the weakest area of the team. Sean Nealis will now assume captaincy of the team, and was great last year. He’ll be partnered by Andres Reyes who was also really good and could contend for Defender of the Year, that’s how high his ceiling is. After those two, the depth at centerback is shaky and unproven.
Our © for 2023
Long Island native Sean Nealis will wear the captain’s armband for the upcoming season! pic.twitter.com/sNRtlsDuKw
— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) February 20, 2023
Matthew Nocita is one of the tallest defenders in the league at 6’8, and will likely earn some game time in certain situations. Dylan Nealis has played some games as a third centerback. But with the system going to a back-four, he’ll stay at right-back. “Big” Hass Adam is also a depth piece that could play in the Open Cup. So needless to say, a centerback signing would be much help as the last piece of business to fulfill before the end of the April 24 Primary Transfer Window.
Elsewhere in defense, fullback looks to be set. Fan favorite John Tolkin is the mainstay at left-back and could contend for Best XI status after a strong 2022 which helped him earn a USMNT cap. Who know how long he’ll stay at the club given the allure of European teams swirling. His depth behind him consists of Homegrown signings Jayden Reid and Curtis Ofori. At right-back, expect loan signing Kyle Duncan to start opening night at Orlando. His play was inconsistent at times. But with preseason under his belt, he’ll be off to a better start in 2023. There’s good competition behind him, with the aforementioned Dylan Nealis there and the attack-minded Cameron Harper also there, who can play as a winger too. This unit conceded 41 goals last year, and it’s possible they concede nearly the same amount in 2023. It’s important to sign another centerback before the window closes.
Who makes the leap in the midfield department?
Midfield is a very intriguing area to look at. Cristian Casseres Jr is still at the club after many expected him to be sold to a team abroad. Frankie Amaya contributed a goal and three assists in a fine 2022 campaign. The emergence of Daniel Edelman in the Open Cup was a welcome sight and started games late in the season, even scoring his first MLS goal against Inter Miami.
Daniel Edelman has put together a string of impressive performances for #RBNY. Under Gerhard Struber and the Red Bull style of play, the club has its next midfield general, writes @SirHarveyCruz. #MLS #LWOShttps://t.co/RnaICtxeCt
— Last Word on Soccer (@LastWordSC) August 29, 2022
Depth is key in midfield and the Red Bulls will rely on the likes of Dru Yearwood, Steven Sserwadda and Peter Stroud. Yearwood had decent moments last year but he also played himself out of the starting eleven and had a red card too. Sserwadda mostly spent time at Red Bulls II, so expect him to make more starts this season. But the hope is that Peter Stroud lives up to his billing and establishes himself as a starter by the All-Star break. He certainly has the tools for it, and will be a big boost in midfield. Expect this bunch to do the dirty work within the Red Bull system. Which is press, win tackles high up the field and of course, score some goals. The Red Bulls finished 1st in MLS in successful tackles per match (11.6) and possession won in the final third (6.6).
Multiple options in attack will mean plenty of goals, right?
It’s been a while since fans were excited about a Red Bulls attacking unit. Patryk Klimala simply couldn’t cut it, no matter what the analytics said. He simply didn’t produce and was sold. In come Dante Vanzeir, who’s already played games in the Europa League during the fall. He comes from Royale Union Saint-Gilloise in Belgium, and scored against Braga back in October. Furthermore, the new DP striker comes to the side with 12 goals and two assists already under his belt. However, he won’t start right away as he ramps up his fitness.
But once he joins, that’s when the fun really starts. Already one of the favorites to win the Golden Boot, he comes into a squad where he’ll have plenty of service. “I made this choice because Red Bull New York is a big team that fits in my playing style,” Vanzeir said at his introductory press conference ahead of the 2023 season. “Their ambitions, their style of play, the culture in the club, it really fits my style too,” Vanzeir said. “That was one of the main reasons to join this club.” He’s also got some lofty goals of his own. “Fifteen goals in a season is a good number and I’m aiming for that every year,” he said.
— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) February 19, 2023
Vanzeir isn’t the only addition to the team. Former Philadelphia Union striker Cory Burke joins the team on a free transfer. He’ll had a veteran presence and is familiar with the high pressing game as well and has proven to play in a two-striker system. Tom Barlow will pair with him in the first game at Orlando. Barlow has scored goals in preseason and is certainly a favorite of Struber. If Serge Ngoma can avoid hamstring problems, he’ll add goals such as the ones he scored against Atlanta and at Austin. And this is all without mentioning the two big guns: Lewis Morgan and Luquinhas. Morgan had an MVP-caliber season in 2022 with 15 goals and three assists. While it’s hard to carry that over into this year, he’s still the main goal threat and penalty taker. The Brazilian Luquinhas is a wonder on the ball. Capable of dribbling past defenders, picking out through balls and can also score bangers as well. All in all, it’s a unit that could possibly score 60+ goals this MLS season.
How much pressure is Gerhard Struber under?
Last time we saw Gerhard Struber, he walked around the pitch at Red Bull Arena to boos. His team had a lead in the playoff game against Cincinnati and lost it. He ran out of solutions, the home record was dreadful and fans wanted him gone. But he’s here, in what’ll be his third full season and faces the pressure of delivering this franchise and MLS Cup. The front office has backed him bringing in new signings and bolstering the midfield.
Struber doesn’t have the easiest start in the world, playing three playoff teams in his first five games. Then again, he won three of his opening five games back in 2022. For this year, the 4-2-2-2 will be the main formation, diverting from the 3-4-2-1. The pressing-system remains the same, new characters have been added to this years’ movie. But there are no excuses now. He has yet to win a playoff game and in this world, you don’t get much more time if you don’t win in the postseason. If all goes well, Struber can be a Manager of the Year candidate of a playoff team that can challenge for the top seed in the East. If not, it’s likely this could be his last season in New York.
Prediction: 3rd in East, ECSF exit; Quarterfinal U.S. Open cup exit
I find it difficult that this team can be better than both FC Cincinnati and Philadelphia. This Eastern Conference is a beast, even more so with the returning Nashville as St. Louis goes to the West. I have them third in the East, I also have both Dante Vanzeir and Lewis Morgan scoring 10+ league goals. The defense could take a hit as they are thin at centerback. Struber prioritized the Open Cup last year, so expect that again this year. Dante Vanzeir is a betting favorite for both the Golden Boot and Newcomer of the Year. The team’s biggest X-Factor is Carlos Coronel. If he can resurrect his 2021 season where he had a league-high 13 clean sheets – then the ceiling is very, very high.
The squad is deeper than last year, but with another year under Struber they can surprise yet again. The fanbase has finally seen an offseason with investment and intent, supporters are feeling optimistic about this bunch. A 14th straight playoff appearance – regardless of its format – looks doable again. There’s enough depth to make another deep U.S. Open Cup run. This core has to win a playoff game to feel substantial success this year. Going farther in the month of October into November will be the goal.