The New York Red Bulls are gearing up for the start of their 2024 Major League Soccer campaign. They kickoff at 5pm EST on Sunday on the road against Nashville S.C.
The New York Red Bulls are gearing up for the start of their 2024 Major League Soccer campaign. They kickoff at 5pm EST on Sunday on the road against Nashville S.C.

RBNY Bullish About Chances in 2024

2023 ended in familiar fashion for the New York Red Bulls and their fans: elimination from the First Round of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs. 3 months, a new head coach and a star signing Designated Player later, New York’s original MLS club are gearing up for what they hope to be a more fruitful 2024. 

Headlined by the signing of Swedish international and former RB Leipzig favorite Emil Forsberg, the New York Red Bulls were relatively busy in the 2023-24 offseason, as was promised by Head of Sport Jochen Schneider. At November’s end of season press conference that saw former Head Coach Troy Lesesne and former Sporting Director Denis Hamlett depart the club, Schneider said, “We have made it, 14 times in a row, to the playoffs. But, please let me say this clearly: This is not good enough…That’s why we agreed, with Red Bull Soccer, to invest in our team. We want to reach the next level with our club.”

Leading the charge to push New York to the next level will be the 32-year-old Forsberg, who holds high ambitions and understands the pressure to perform as the most accomplished player for the Red Bulls. “I’ve been playing under pressure my whole life. I love the pressure. I’m excited. I’m very comfortable, and I’m also convinced about the quality of the team and what I’m going to bring to the team,” Forsberg said at his unveiling to New York media in early February. “That’s why I also wanted to come here because I think it’s a fantastic opportunity, and I think we have a big chance together with Sandro as well. We’re going to be a team and we’re going to win as a team.”

Outside of Forsberg (who was named RBNY’s captain ahead of last Tuesday’s Media Day), New York made additions in defense, bringing in another Swede in young center back Noah Eile from Swedish giants Malmo, as well as full back Jose Juan Mina who was signed late last year from Colombian club Deportivo Cali and has yet to feature for New York’s first team. Unlike last year, New York’s already impressive defense (tied for second fewest goals conceded in the Eastern Conference in 2023) has a safety blanket of depth, with Eile showing potential to start in the center of defense alongside established pieces in Colombian international Andres Reyes and former captain, now vice-captain, Sean Nealis.

Also reinforcing the defense will be a returning JMi Tolkin, as the 21-year-old fan favorite star was rumored to be potentially departing for Europe in the offseason, with clubs from the Premier League, Bundesliga and more looking to sign the left back. In just three full seasons with the first team, the Chatham, New Jersey native has not only set himself apart as New York’s most popular player, but has played his way into MLS Best-XI conversations and earned United States Men’s National Team call-ups to boot.

However, fans are still demanding more be done in terms of strengthening the squad, with many citing New York’s poor scoring record over the last few seasons (tied for third fewest goals in the Eastern Conference in 2023) as a need that should be addressed. New York still has one remaining Designated Player spot and, in reference to bringing in more players, Schneider assured fans that “we are not done.” Yet, there is still a clear belief from within the club that the pieces exist in the attack to improve on goal scoring.

Amongst the ranks include last year’s marquee signing Dante Vanzeir, whose 2023 season was marred by injuries and a six-game suspension for using racist language in his first MLS start. Vanzeir contends that “last year was a year of learning a lot and I think now I’m ready to perform.” New York are equally hopeful in winger Lewis Morgan’s return, who featured in only five matches during his injury ridden 2023 season after scoring a team-leading 18 goals across all competitions in 2022. According to Morgan, “I think I’m going to need to build up over the start of the season. Don’t expect me to be starting games anytime soon.”

Despite the departure of homegrown favorite and last year’s leading goal scorer in Bronx native Omir Fernandez, another forward hopeful returning from injury is young phenom Serge Ngoma, who was slated to break out in 2023 if not for several issues related to injury. After returning to the Red Bulls’ first team during last year’s playoffs, the 18-year-old North Plainfield, NJ native is expected to hit the ground running next to the likes of Vanzeir, Forsberg, Morgan, Cory Burke, Elias Manoel, Wiki Carmona, Julian Hall and Cameron Harper. Quietly, New York did make an additional signing in the forward position on Friday Feb. 16, bringing in Norwegian winger Dennis Gjengaar from Eliteserien side Odds BK on a U-22 Initiative deal.

New York’s midfield is highlighted by youth and continuity, with homegrown midfielder Daniel Edelman and first overall pick in the 2019 MLS Superdraft Frankie Amaya expected to carry the load once again in central midfield. After Cristian Casseres’ departure last season and Dru Yearwood heading to Nashville over the offseason, the pool of central midfielders has thinned out a bit more, meaning expectations on Amaya, Edelman and fellow homegrown Peter Stroud have only risen. “I want it to be my year this year,” Edelman said. “I’ll bet on myself.”

At the end of the day, though, the burden falls on new German Head Coach Sandro Schwarz, who most recently managed Hertha Berlin before being sacked prior to their relegation at the end of the 2023 Bundesliga season. Prior, Schwarz had largely successful stints at Mainz and Dynamo Moscow which he will hope to replicate in New York with a nearly complete squad of players to select from. In light of the changes within the coaching ranks and front office, Schwarz assures that the team will play a familiar style of play. “This is Red Bull soccer, for sure,” Schwarz said. “To find good positions when we have the ball, when we have the situations in the [final] third. Deep runs are very important for us when we have the ball with highest intensity. This is also then necessary to find the right moment when we can start the pressing and to change together. We have to do this as a team and hold the energy.”

The New York Red Bulls will officially kick off their 2024 Major League Soccer campaign away at Geodis Park against Nashville S.C. on Sunday at 5 pm. Their quest for a league-record 15 straight playoff appearances and more starts in Nashville this weekend.