The 2012 New York Red Bulls were the most "win now" team in the history of the franchise, and thus you could accurately and adequately summarize their season in one word: Failure. A wild roller coaster campaign that included a front office shakeup and a natural disaster that completely changed the team's playoff match-up against rivals DC United ended, as has every RBNY season, in defeat, and New York are again a team that have way more questions than answers heading into the winter months. Before entering the desert of transfer rumors and speculation about New York's next head coach, here's one final look back at what was to be the end of the Hans Backe Red Bulls era.
2012 New York Red Bulls season review: Player of the year
I rarely, if ever, like to distinguish between POTY and MVP, mostly because I think doing so is petty and nothing more than an excuse to give props to as many players as possible. With the 2012 Red Bulls, however, the difference between the team's best overall player and the team's most important player is clear. When fully fit and motivated to prove that he is more than an aged player who can no longer start for a Premier League side (a criticism he disproved while on loan at Arsenal last winter), captain Thierry Henry wasn't just the top player in a RBNY shirt.
He was the best attacking player in all of Major League Soccer.
Those quick to point out the 18 league goals scored by Kenny Cooper in 2012 need to ask themselves one question: Does Cooper net so many tallies without having an in-form Henry in the team during the first third of the season? Those who answer "yes" are flat out wrong, and it's not even a debatable issue.
Henry can admittedly be a frustrating player, a world class scorer who quickly gets frustrated with teammates and thus drops back into the midfield in order to create opportunities rather than having patience and trusting guys like Joel Lindpere, Lloyd Sam or even the much-maligned Rafa Marquez to play an adequate pass into the attacking third. He's also, minus a meaningless away goal against FC Dallas and a brilliant through ball for Luke Rodgers last November, failed to show up during postseason play in his three years with the team. His flaws aside, Henry remains one of the best footballers in this league, and you'd be crazy to not want him as New York's captain next March.
2012 New York Red Bulls season review: Most Valuable Player
It was but one year ago that some within the RBNY fan base, myself included, were lamenting the deal that sent Dwayne De Rosario to DC United for Dax McCarty. De Rosario, who didn't click with the Red Bulls while having a very small cup of coffee with the team, went on to have a stellar second half of the season with DC and he was ultimately named league MVP, while McCarty was really just a guy in a lackluster New York midfield and not much more. Now, as the 2012 holiday season gets underway, some are calling for McCarty to get a call-up to the US Men's National Team when the Jurgen Klinsmann army resumes 2014 World Cup qualification a few months down the road.
McCarty was an absolute boss in replacing the suspended and/or injured Marquez at CDM throughout the first few months of the season, routinely shutting down opponents before they were able to launch attacks that could test what was, at the time, an incredibly shaky back line. His ability to jump-start counterattacks with pinpoint passes is something that still gets overlooked by some fans and analysts. Truth be told, McCarty's only "meh" games came when now former RBNY head coach Hans Backe would play the holding midfielder out on the wing in order to start Marquez in the Mexican international's desired position.
McCarty's knack for launching strikes into the upper bowl of Red Bull Arena left me shaking my head too many times in 2012, and one such miss-fire that occurred inside the DC United penalty area during the second leg of that playoff series turned out to be a lamentable moment. Dax isn't paid to score goals, though, and his evolving into maybe the best in the league at his position was a significant reason the Red Bulls looked like true Supporters' Shield contenders up through the end of summer. No player in the team was more valuable than was McCarty, and that's why he gets this award. Had New York gone on to won it all, it's possible that he would have been worthy of league MVP honors.
2012 New York Red Bulls season review: Regrettable moves?
When you're a "win now" team as were the 2012 Red Bulls, any and all transactions made during the season can only be truly evaluated once we learn if the squad actually won anything. New York's trophy case remains empty, and thus I'm left pondering three different moves and what might have been for both the current roster and for the team's future.
Mehdi Ballouchy was always a quirky player, a guy who earned himself a fair amount of criticism for being a liability on the ball and (sometimes) lazy off of it. Too many within the RBNY fan base failed to realize how solid of a contributor he became for the club starting last August, and Ballouchy was one of several "super subs" who saved the day once half of the team's lineup mainstays went down to injury in the spring. The arrival of Tim Cahill to the Red Bulls in July signaled Ballouchy's exit from the club, however, and he was shipped off to San Jose Earthquakes for an international spot and future draft pick.
This leads me to Cahill, who on paper seemed to be a much better option than Ballouchy. Games aren't played on paper, though, and you'd be faced with quite the ask if forced to show that Cahill has yet earned a third DP slot. One goal and three assists in twelve starts is nice and all, but the "wait until Cahill is in season form come this fall!" promises that were heard after his first couple of MLS contests were never realized. I'm far from anti-Cahill, as I like both the intensity and leadership qualities that he brings to the team. I just don't think he was or is the attacking midfielder the Red Bulls have been searching for since the start of the Henry era.
Knowing all we now know, assume for a moment that New York had kept Ballouchy and used the money spent on Cahill to instead sign Italian maestro Alessandro Del Piero. The former Juve man had been linked with the Red Bulls more than once this past spring, and he has shown while with A-League side Sydney FC that he's still capable of delivering the type of service that Henry hasn't yet seen since joining MLS. I'll concede that Del Piero isn't a long-term fix for the Red Bulls, but neither are Henry, Cahill or Marquez. Del Piero would have been the ultimate "all-in" move, but the front office failed to pull the trigger.
One potential long-term fix, young forward Juan Agudelo, was sent to Chivas USA back in May for defender Heath Pearce. Pearce is a tremendous defender capable of featuring at LB and CB, and he makes any MLS back line better. With that said, New York's two top goal scorers as of the typing of this piece are Henry and Cooper, and neither man is getting any younger.
Fans who don't remember Agudelo's time with New York fondly should realize that the issue was a two-way street involving the forward who turns 20-years old this month and Backe, a head coach who always favored veteran players over emerging stars. With Backe no longer running the show, I'd take Agudelo back with the Red Bulls in a heartbeat.
Somebody has to score goals for this team past 2013.
2012 New York Red Bulls season review: Where it all went wrong
Three separate events that all occurred this fall doomed the Red Bulls before the start of the postseason. The front office shake-up, one that saw Red Bulls sporting director and general manager Erik Soler replaced by Jérôme de Bontin and Gérard Houllier less than one month before the start of the postseason, remains one of the most curious moves I've ever seen made by any professional sports franchise. You can say what you want about the RBNY players being professionals and needing to be able to block any off-field distractions from their minds. Those players are also individuals who could clearly see that the Red Bulls were in mid-reboot even before the roster had played a second of playoff soccer.
Then came the news that Backe may or may not have told a foreign newspaper that he was "moving home" to Sweden at the conclusion of the season regardless of what occurred during the playoffs. Backe never had the reputation of being a "player's coach" while with the Red Bulls, and thus such an announcement wasn't going to turn into a rallying cry of "win one for the Gipper" for this team. That the Red Bulls scored zero goals in 180+ minutes of playoff soccer against their most hated rivals tells me all I need to know about New York's desire to carry their coach to a league title and new contract.
The aftermath of Superstorm Sandy also cannot be overlooked. For starters, some New York players went a decent amount of time with no electricity, no heat and no hot water. Transportation to and from Red Bull Arena for the home playoff match against DC was difficult to find in some parts of the area, and impossible in others. More than one season ticket holder I know didn't watch either playoff game because those people were busy dealing with other matters, such as having lost a vehicle or one floor of a home. The nor'easter that nailed the region a week and a half after Sandy was the final gut-punch for some who couldn't bring themselves to care about postseason soccer this time around.
2012 New York Red Bulls season review: Overall
The 2012 Red Bulls are already becoming a thing of the past. Backe is out, over ten players have been shown the door, and the team's new sporting director is looking to completely change the structure of the roster starting this past week. I'll remember the Red Bulls of the past nine months for being a team with a ton of promise, one with a head coach who tried to make positive changes but in the end couldn't get out of his own way, one with a captain who reached out to fans but also failed to create magic in the most important match(es) of the season, and one that again didn't come close to matching high expectations despite having the largest payroll in the league.
In other words: Same old Metro.
Zac is a lifelong soccer fanatic, a diehard Red Bulls fan and one of the only American A-League fans you'll meet. He has been covering Major League Soccer, RBNY and other soccer leagues for Yahoo! Sports since 2011.