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Where it went wrong for the New York Red Bulls: Another day, another 'That's so Metro'

3:40 AM SGT 16/10/22
Lewis Morgan NYRB
A 13-year playoff streak has been met by 13 straight playoff exits and zero MLS Cup appearances.

Any New York Red Bulls fan knows how this goes. And they know the words that come with it.

'That's so Metro'.

Saturday brought the latest moment to encapsulate those three words, as the Red Bulls threw away a lead to fall to FC Cincinnati at home.

It was a match that had it all: a stunning goal, an injury during the ensuing celebration and, ultimately, another Red Bull collapse.

But where did it go wrong for the Red Bulls? Let's take a look:

  • Brandon Vazquez 2022

    On the day

    It seemed to all be going so well for the Red Bulls.

    Lewis Morgan had just scored a missile early in the second half, giving the hosts the lead. A big celebration followed, as players mobbed the Scottish star, the team's leading scorer, in corner.

    What happened next was a sign of things to come.

    Morgan emerged from those celebrations with an injury, calling to the bench to take him out. From there, it was all Cincy. Goals from Luciano Acosta and Brandon Vazquez were just enough to lift the visitors into a date with the Philadelphia Union.

    The first goal was entirely preventable, a silly penalty given away by Andres Reyes. The second was just a case of lost individual battles, with both Vazquez and Sergio Santos beating their defenders for pace.

    It wasn't a bad performance, but it wasn't a good one and, in the playoffs where margins are slim, the Red Bulls were sent packing.

  • NY Red Bulls

    Definition of insanity

    We all know the saying.

    "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."

    The Red Bulls have been trying to do the same thing over and over stylistically since Thierry Henry left the club and, by and large, the results have been the same.

    Yes, the Red Bulls have a 13-year postseason streak, an impressive feat in MLS. And, of course, the Red Bulls can beat anyone on their day in the regular season, which they've been able to do for years thanks to their pressing system.

    The problem is that they can't beat several teams in a row in a playoff format with the way this team plays. The evidence is there for all to see: four straight Round One exits and zero MLS Cup final appearances since this all began.

    Teams have essentially figured out the Red Bulls' pressing style, and they figured it out years ago. You simply have to play patient, limit mistakes and don't take the risks that would generally fall right into the Red Bulls' trap. In the postseason, the margins are even finer for a team that lives and dies by other teams' mistakes rather than difference-makers of their own.

    It's something you see all over the world. Eventually, teams' styles get figured out, and you have to either evolve that style or find a new one.

    As MLS has evolved, the Red Bulls simply haven't. Their team hasn't been strong enough, their style hasn't been successful enough and, ultimately, it hasn't worked in the way the club would hope.

  • Luquinhas Red Bulls 2022

    Missing stars

    In the early years of this iteration of the Red Bills, it all worked, and that's because of the people involved.

    They had a Best XI caliber striker in Bradley Wright-Phillips, Homegrown stars like Tyler Adams and Matt Miazga, MLS stars like Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestan and Luis Robles all being led by Jesse Marsch.

    Those days are long gone. Adams is at Leeds, and players of his caliber rarely come along. Wright-Phillips was absolutely lightning in a bottle, a once-in-a-lifetime type of signing that went from nothing to club legend. And there's a reason Marsch is now managing in the Premier League, and that's because he's a hell of a manager.

    The Red Bulls have been unable to replicate that success simply because it's impossible to replicate.

    They're still relying on the same formula: homegrown, local talent supplemented by the signing of undervalued, high-potential foreign players. It's something other clubs are doing well, such as the Philadelphia Union, but it's also really hard to have everything line up in the right way.

    At the end of the day, in this league, you usually go only as far as your DPs can take you. And the Red Bulls' DPs didn't live up to their billing.

    Luquinhas started the season on fire with five goals and three assists by mid-July. He provided zero goals and one assist in the 16 games since.

    Patryk Klimala contributed to just eight goals in 28 appearances after scoring or assisting on 15 in 29 games last season.

    And then there's Dru Yearwood, who hasn't played since September after booting a ball into the stands and injuring a fan.

    Contrast that with Cincinnati, who got goals from two of its stars to win the match.

    When your stars go missing in big moments, there's only one result. And when you don't splash the cash to bring in the best players possible, you're going to struggle to compete, more likely than not.

  • Long USMNT 2022

    What's next?

    One big question will hang over this team's offseason: what happens with Aaron Long?

    The USMNT center back is a free agent after this season, and there's no guarantee he'll be back. A strong World Cup could ignite European interest, while he'll have no shortage of suitors in MLS should he choose to stay.

    He wasn't at his best against Cincy but, make no mistake: Long is important as can be to this Red Bulls team. He is the anchor, the defensive star, and, despite his injury issues, this team is not the same without him.

    If he leaves, the Red Bulls are looking at a massive hole in defense. If he stays, that's one less thing to worry about.

    Before the season Gerhard Struber complained about the strength of his roster. Those complaints will likely get louder after another first round exit.

    The Red Bulls' offseason starts with Long, though, as they'll have to keep hold of their star while bringing in a few new ones to truly reach the level they wish to reach.