2010 in Review: RBNY offseason checklist

The Red Bulls need Henry healthy, and finding a No. 10 is vital

HARRISON, N.J. – The Red Bulls had quite a season, bringing in former
Barcelona big guns Thierry Henry and Rafa Márquez en route to claiming the
top seed in the Eastern Conference before suffering a premature exit from the MLS
Cup Playoffs. But perhaps head coach Hans Backe was right when he
cautioned the fans and media at the midway point of the season that the
goal was to build a foundation for 2011.

With the new season just a
few months away, New York are expected to return to the training pitch
come mid-January to prepare for a potential MLS Cup-caliber campaign. To
get there, the club must check off five objectives in this offseason:

Find a No. 10

The
Red Bulls’ defense was one of the league’s best and the offense has the
lethal attacking options of Henry and Juan Agudelo, but the question
mark heading into the offseason remains the creativity – or lack thereof
– in the midfield.

With New York using two holding midfielders
(Márquez and Tony Tchani) down the stretch, the team had good shape down
its spine but didn’t have the ability to take the ball on the dribble
into the final third.

Late-season acquisition Mehdi Ballouchy was
supposed to be the missing link, but he was hampered by a foot injury
towards the end and was sporadic at best. Perhaps Swedish international
Jan Gunnar Solli – rumored to arrive in New York in January – is the
answer.

Find a partner in crime for Henry

If Henry is going to
be effective, he’ll need a strike partner. The Red Bulls jettisoned the
team’s all-time leading scorer, Juan Pablo Ángel, after the Colombian
went through a serious scoring slump in the second half of the season.

Agudelo
showed some spunk in New York’s Eastern Conference semifinal series
against San Jose, and if Backe wants pace up top, the youngster could be
Henry’s accomplice. The 18-year-old – whom Backe says could also play on the
wing – showed his nose for goal when he scored in his US national team
debut vs. South Africa last month, so it might be in the team’s best interest that
he play up top.

Regardless, the Red Bulls need at least one other
forward of starting quality added to the roster this offseason as the
plodding Salou Ibrahim definitely isn’t the answer.

Get Henry healthy again

The
most expensive signing in club history arrived midseason with plenty of
hype, but the French star scored just twice in league play. Henry says
the benefit of a true preseason will help his form and his ability to
stay healthy after several injury struggles last season, but he must
perform in 2011 or risk being tagged a bust.

Beefing up the back line

Since
the early part of the season, Backe HAS talked about strengthening central
defense in 2011. Mike Petke, who holds New York’s record for most
appearances, retired at season’s end. Though Carlos Mendes had a
solid year, Backe might be looking for a bigger name.

The answer
could already be on the squad in the form of Márquez, who has played
center back for most of his club and country career and only recently
shifted to the midfield. He’d bring composure to the back four and would
be a wonderful partner alongside Tim Ream. Moving the Mexican from
midfield to defense would also free up minutes for Tchani, who was
impressive in central midfield during his rookie season.

No fullback left behind

In
his first year in the league, Costa Rican international Roy Miller had a
solid start to the season. He defended well, didn’t shy away from
physical play and transitioned comfortably into the attack. Then, after a
red card in late May during a 3-2 road loss to New England, Miller never
seemed the same player.

By the end of the campaign, he was
tentative to move forward and indecisive defensively, a weak link among
the defenders. While Danleigh Borman improved by leaps and bounds this
year and is serviceable as a left back, Backe would be wise to improve
the team’s depth in that position.

Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012.

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