2011 New York Preview: All eyes on Henry

DP striker, youngster Agudelo the keys for Red Bulls to run

The Tweet and Lowdown:

Red Bulls are looking to build on successful 2010, but season comes down to if Thierry Henry can find back of the net regularly.

Setting the Scene:

It was lots of good vibes in last season from the Red Bulls, with a new stadium being successfully christened and superstar talent such as Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez being infused into the starting XI.

New York’s fresh start included finishing atop the Eastern Conference, a good building block heading into 2011. The club tweaked its roster, adding pieces such as versatile midfielders Jan Gunnar Solli and Teemu Tainio, plus an explosive talent in the speedy Luke Rodgers.

Key Changes:

Players In: Corey Hertzog (Penn State), Sacir Hot (Boston College), Matt Kassel (Univ. of Maryland), Stephen Keel (Portland), Marcos Paullo (Atlético Paranaense, Brazil), John Rooney (Macclesfield Town, England), Jan Gunnar Solli (SK Brann, Norway), Luke Rodgers (Notts County, England), Teemu Tainio (Ajax, Netherlands)

Players Out: Juan Pablo Angel (LA Galaxy), Mike Petke (retired), Seth Stammler (retired), Andrew Boyens (Chivas USA), Sinisa Ubiparipovic (Sporting KC)

Coaching changes: Jan Halvor Halvorsen and Petke were named assistants while Richie Williams and Des McAleenan were let go.

Star Attraction: Thierry Henry

It may be cliché, but the Red Bulls are relying on Henry to live up to the hype come 2011. The former French international’s two goals scored in MLS last year were not enough for a player of his pedigree.

It's doubly important he comes through this year, as New York will be without the services of all-time leading scorer Juan Pablo Angel. The Colombian led the Red Bulls with 13 goals last year and his production will be missed.

Henry must score for New York and, with the benefit of a full preseason, there is every reason to believe that he will find his rhythm.

Unsung Hero: Jan Gunnar Solli

He has yet to play in MLS, but the Norwegian could be a tremendous find for the Red Bulls. Bursting with European and international experience, Solli is a hard-working player and his runs into space and timed overlaps will open the field for the rest of the attack.

Dane Richards on the right wing should benefit the most from the room Solli opens up, and the midfielder’s hard work and tireless effort should help the team's defense as well.

Ready for Primetime: Juan Agudelo

It may not be a statistically gaudy year for the teenager, what with potential call-ups for both the US U-20 and senior national teams cutting into his minutes, but New York's academy product is poised to grab a starting role when he's available. Head coach Hans Backe is bullish on Agudelo, who had his first career assist in his second-ever professional start, a 3-1 playoff loss to San Jose to end the 2010 season.

He’s shown flashes with the national team, including scoring on his debut in South Africa and drawing a penalty against Chile. The coaching staff has vowed he will be taken along slowly so as to not burn out.

Storyline to Watch:

Last year, Richards scored all five of his goals after Henry's arrival, with the right winger benefitting from the space and attention the the French striker garnered. Richards showed patience in front of goal and a scoring touch he never before had around the net, pacing the club through August and September with a series of scintillating performances. The Jamaican has confidence now, carrying that form over this fall and winter with his national team. If he can keep tallying for Backe’s boys, the Red Bulls could start clicking on all cylinders.

What He Said:

“This isn’t the team from last year – we tasted winning and I think we want it all the more, and we can bring it every game for 90 minutes this year.”

– Assistant coach Mike Petke

If Everything Goes Right:

Last year ended too soon for New York, losing in the first round of the MLS Cup Playoffs after a regular season where they had the third-best record in the league. With the additions made to the midfield, and if the forwards can consistently finish, the Red Bulls have the talent to reach the 2011 MLS Cup.

The club will be tested by international call-ups and could be missing half the starting XI for much of the summer with the CONCACAF Gold Cup and Copa América. But if the Red Bulls can survive during that stretch, then this is a team that can potentially win the Supporters’ Shield out of a weak Eastern Conference.