The New York Red Bulls' 2023 season officially came to a close, leaving the fans and the organization itself with a lot to think about heading into the offseason. A rollercoaster of a season including time spent at the bottom of the table, to eventually making the playoffs for the 14th consecutive year, there was nothing boring about this year.
New York’s season ended in early November after a heartbreaking to FC Cincinnati in the first round of the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs. Although this was their 14th consecutive playoff appearance, breaking the record for the longest streak in men’s North American sports, the Red Bulls were eliminated from the first round for the fifth straight year. It’s nice to make the playoffs every year, but a first-round exit is something New York’s Head of Sport Jochen Schneider looks to change.
“We are proud of the run that we made,” Schneider said. “We have made it now 14 times in a row to the playoffs. But, please let me say this clearly. This is not good enough. We need to take the next step. And that's why we made these key decisions. That's why we agreed with Red Bull Soccer to invest in our team, and we want to reach the next level with our club.”
New York finished the season with an 11-10-13 record, finishing eighth in the Eastern Conference which is four places lower than last season. Their leading scorers were Omir Fernandez and Elias Manoel with six goals each. The leader in assists was who else but John “JMi” Tolkin with eight on the year, 10 across all competitions, which is the most by a defender in franchise history. New York finished the regular season with a total of 42 goals scored, ranking 21st in the MLS with definite room for improvement.
“Even when you look at this season, as I said in the last press conference, I'm not the biggest fan of expected goals, I wish they were actual goals,” Schneider said. “But in terms of expected goals, we were quite good. So we need to finish, we need to execute, and we need to finish the games. And we haven't, we haven't done that. Having said that, that also means that we can develop our own game.”
Following the conclusion of the season, the Red Bulls are making some big personnel changes as they've recently parted ways with sporting director Denis Hamlett and interim head coach Troy Lesesne. New York is looking to improve upon the product displayed on the pitch and feels this was the right decision.
“Denis made a significant impact on our club since he joined in 2015,” Schneider said. “Starting as an assistant coach under Jesse Marsch, and then becoming the Sporting Director… His insights and perspective were always important when making key decisions for the club's success. During the time Denis was here with the club, the club qualified every year for the playoffs. We thank Denis for all the work and the energy he put into our club… This is in the DNA of this club. There's no quit here at Red Bull Arena. I'm really thankful for what Troy did here as an interim coach. I wish him and his family the best.”
Defender Sean Nealis, who earned the position of team captain for the first time this year was well suited for its responsibilities. Nealis agreed that making the playoffs was not enough and wants to see a trophy in the near future.
“I think personally on the team we want to win some trophies,” Nealis said. “That’s the main goal as a competitor and as a player. Your career is only so long, and you’re judged with how many trophies you win. That's a big point. That's why we play the game.”
Although this wasn’t the best season the Red Bulls have played, they were able to impress many with the adversity overcome this season. From the bottom of the table in May to winning four of their last five games that clinched their spot in the playoffs, this team fought instead of giving up.
“The feeling was that we could have done better and could have gone a lot further,” defender Andres Reyes said. “Everyone knows that. Personally, getting eliminated isn't enough so we'll do better and go further into the playoffs… I agree that making it to the playoffs is not enough. We need to push harder and the newcomers and the vets. We're going to try and push everyone to do better and work harder next season.”