Rob Tringali / New York Red Bulls

Red Bulls proud of changed character, Supporters' Shield title

HARRISON, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls took a step in the right direction in 2013 under first-year head coach Mike Petke, winning their first league-wide championship and demonstrating more character than they had in recent memory. But the feeling that the club missed out on a huge opportunity cannot be shaken.

The Red Bulls once again fell short of their ultimate goal of winning MLS Cup, losing 2-1 at home to the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night, and that result cast a large enough shadow to take away a bit of the shine from what was otherwise a positive season.

New York’s season should not be looked at as a failure, not when they ended the year with just one loss in their final 10 matches en route to hoisting the Supporters’ Shield. But Wednesday's premature elimination leaves the Red Bulls thinking they did not reach their full potential in 2013.

“It’s a great one for Mike, his first year as a coach winning the Supporters’ Shield, but you know the rules here,” said captain Thierry Henry. “You have to win the MLS Cup to be champion. We didn’t manage to do that.”

While another year without an MLS Cup will sting the Red Bulls and their fan base, there are reasons for optimism heading into 2014. New York showed new-found grit under Petke, fought off inconsistency to string together an impressive final two months of the regular season, and looked like a more cohesive unit.

“Mike did a great job changing the character of the team, and not just Mike,” said goalkeeper Luis Robles after Wednesday’s extra-time loss to the Dynamo at Red Bull Arena. “It’s Tim [Cahill], Thierry, and any of those guys that stepped up to be leaders this season, and I think we surprised a lot of people. If we can focus on that and build off of that for next season, I don’t think we’re going to surprise as many people, but there’s a lot there already that can be built upon towards the future.”

Looking forward might be difficult to do at the moment, given the freshness of the wound from the Red Bulls’ playoff exit. But the club does not have to look very far into the past to see why the future may be brighter than ever.

“I’m proud that we had the chance to lift a little bit of silverware in this season,” said Cahill of helping New York claim its first trophy in 2013. “Overall, the boys should be proud of what we achieved this year and so should the fans.”

Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.