The New York Red Bulls defense has been superb to start the season, conceding just seven goals through their first eight matches, tied for the fewest in MLS.

Red Bulls Tied For Supporters’ Shield Lead After 8 Matches

After a solid start through eight league matches to the 2024 Major League Soccer season, the New York Red Bulls sit tied atop the Supporters’ Shield standings on 15 points alongside the LA Galaxy and Inter Miami. Under new leadership in Sandro Schwarz and Designated Player captain Emil Forsberg, the Red Bulls have hit a new stride of success and quality play that has pushed them to the top of MLS’s Eastern Conference.

After collecting four points in their opening two road matches, New York went on to pick up three wins in their following five contests, including a thumping 4-0 victory over Luis Suarez and Inter Miami (with Lionel Messi sidelined due to injury) and a vengeful 2-1 win against reigning Supporters’ Shield champion and newly developing rival FC Cincinnati. To date, the only blemish on New York’s 4-3-1 record is a humbling 3-0 loss at Field to the MLS Cup holders Columbus Crew.

Leading the way for New York has been Lewis Morgan, who has not missed a beat despite missing all but five matches in 2023 with a serious hip injury. Since undergoing surgery and rehabbing, Morgan has picked up right where he left off with 18 goals across all competitions in 2022, grabbing a joint league-leading six goals and two assists through the opening eight matches that included a masterful hat trick against former club Inter Miami. Alongside Morgan at the forward position, Dante Vanzeir has been decidedly better than he was in his hellish 2023 campaign, racking up an MLS best six assists and a game-winning goal against FC Cincy on top of his record-breaking four assist performance vs Miami. 

In central midfield, Frankie Amaya’s performances suggest he belongs in the discussion for one of MLS’s best box-to-box midfielders, highlighted by his dominant performance against his former club in FC Cincy, playing and scoring his way through choruses of boos at TQL Stadium. In front of him in attacking midfield has typically been the club’s DP star in Forsberg and Wiki Carmona, who has quietly been one of the Red Bulls’ more impactful performers, earning four straight starts. That’s not to mention New York’s stout defense, led by star keeper Carlos Coronel, homegrown hero JMi Tolkin, former captain Sean Nealis and newcomer Noah Eile, which is tied for fewest goals conceded through eight matches in MLS with seven. Additionally, the contributions from the likeliest of sources in Forsberg have been transformational, who clearly possesses a skillset and soccer know-how the likes of which New York hasn’t since the days of Thierry Henry. However, since picking up an injury around the time of the March international break and in the midst of some not-so-savory news about his personal life, Forsberg’s influence has been limited to just one assist against FC Cincy despite New York’s success.

The Red Bulls backline converges on Chicago Fire forward Hugo Cuypers during their 0-0 draw at Red Bull Arena on Saturday, April 13.

What’s become most clear about this Red Bulls team, though, is their ability to play an attractive and threatening brand of attacking football which has been sorely missed at Red Bull Arena since the mid-to-late 2010s. Schwarz has placed a clearer emphasis on meaningful passages of possession than any of New York’s previous few managers while still remaining faithful to the Red Bull pressing brand of soccer. The Red Bulls have been proficient in destroying opposing teams’ rhythms (excluding their defeat against Columbus) while maintaining enough control of the ball to avoid it looking like the 90 minute soccer equivalent of a YouTube car crash compilation, which has spelled for better looking soccer and more competence in front of goal thus far.

Still returning to full fitness, DP star midfielder Emil Forsberg applauds fans at Red Bull Arena after getting subbed off from New York’s 0-0 draw with the Chicago Fire on Saturday, April 13.

In their most recent tilt at home, New York played out to a 0-0 draw against the Chicago Fire on Saturday April 13 in former striker Tom Barlow’s return to Red Bull Arena, headlined by a silly 40th minute red card from Red Bulls defender Andres Reyes and a subsequent masterclass of ten-men defending. The match certainly was not without drama and scoring chances despite the empty scoreline, with New York creating a number of dangerous opportunities, most notably in the dying moments of the contest with Elias Manoel and Amaya hitting each of the posts within seconds of one another in second half stoppage time. Naturally, Reyes’s dismissal caused Schwarz to improvise with personnel and tactics before halftime, bringing off a frustrated Vanzeir for a briefly injured Sean Nealis before the break in order to solidify the defense. With the draw, New York improved to 2-1-0 at home, their best start to a season at home since they went 3-0-0 at home to start the 2018 MLS season before going on to capture their third Supporters’ Shield. This has been crucial for New York’s return to form from the 2010s since the Red Bulls have not been able to call their home in Harrison, New Jersey a fortress despite still sitting among the best MLS home records since Red Bull Arena’s opening in 2010.

Noting the importance of playing at home in front of a solid crowd, Schwarz additionally highlighted the importance of his team’s dedication to defending in their draw to the Fire despite having the better of attacking chances. “It’s true that we had a lot of chances. But second half was great, great performance tactically, especially in our defense structure and also to have these situations with four center midfield players,” Schwarz said. “We said this in halftime, we have to defend seriously and also have the focus in our transition, and we had the moments. A little bit disappointed about these chances, but it’s small. To have this feeling with this great tactically performance and also with this mentality was very good.”

With another solid performance under their belt through some adversity, the Red Bulls have continued to maintain their high standards that have surprised people throughout the league since the start of the 2024 season. In the coming weeks, New York will face some of their toughest tests, including a trip to southern California against Western Conference powerhouse Los Angeles FC this coming Saturday 4/20 before tilts against elite opposition in the Vancouver Whitecaps and Messi’s Inter Miami in the subsequent two matches. Unfortunately, they’ll be without sophomore homegrown midfielder Peter Stroud who joined the likes of youngsters Roald Mitchell and Serge Ngoma on the long-term disabled list with an ankle injury sustained in the second half against Chicago.