This was supposed to be the New York Red Bulls’ year. They entered the playoffs as the top seed in the East and unbeaten in 20 straight matches. They had the league’s top goalscorer and top assist man. There wasn’t a truly dominant team in MLS. This year, 2016, was when the Red Bulls were going to finally break through and win that elusive MLS Cup.
Instead, they lost the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal tie, 1-0. And while that wasn’t just surmountable — they were still favorites to advance heading back home for the second leg — they lost to the Montreal Impact yet again, 2-1. With that 3-1 aggregate scoreline, their season was over and all those hopes dashed.
The Red Bulls are a 20-year-old club now. They are one of the MLS originals. But despite their history, big market and money spent, they are known for one thing — falling short.
They are one of two teams that were around in MLS’s first year to have never won an MLS Cup. Until 2013, they hadn’t won a single trophy and while they added a second Supporters’ Shield in 2015, that lack of an MLS Cup haunts the club. It’s a running joke around the league, that New York, with the many stars its had and money its poured into their team, has never stood atop MLS, and those jokes will persist for at least another year.
The Red Bulls will be back next season and they should have most of their core. Sacha Kljestan and Bradley Wright-Phillips aren’t going anywhere, but they’re both on the wrong side of 30 and will be a year older. They might need some help to make the leap.
Jesse Marsch’s team is built around their system and not any individuals, and it’s worked to this point. They’ve had more success in the last few years than in their entire history to that point, but it might be time to add a little more individual talent to their strong team. Maybe even spend some cash to do it, like they used to. But however they go attacking the 2017 MLS Cup, they will be doing so in search of their first title because once again, they fell short.