We had written this preview as a part of MLS Fantasy Boss’ 2018 Fantasy Team Preview series. The crew over there does a fantastic job, be sure to go check them out throughout the season!
In 2017, the New York Red Bulls finished 6th in the Eastern Conference, clinching their eighth straight playoff berth. In the playoffs, the Red Bulls earned a decisive 4-0 victory over the Chicago Fire in the knockout round, but were defeated in the semifinals by eventual MLS Cup winner Toronto FC in a hard-fought series. The club also advanced to the US Open Cup Final, where they were unfortunately defeated on the road 2-1 against Sporting KC.
From a fantasy perspective, there were several Red Bulls players who had successful campaigns. Reigning MLS Ironman Luis Robles was the fourth-highest scoring fantasy goalkeeper with 160 points, just 9 points shy of the leaders (Zack Steffen & Stefan Frei). Aaron Long had an immensely successful rookie season on the back line, becoming a bonus point machine at center-back en route to 148 points over 30 starts. Up top, Bradley Wright-Phillips managed to finish in the Top 10 of all forwards, but his 168 points were the fewest he’s had in his four years as a starter. The midfield is where the Red Bulls truly shined last season from a fantasy standpoint: Sacha Kljestan had a third straight 200+ point season with 213, and Felipe was one of the top bonus-point-earning defensive midfielders on the way to a total of 155. When healthy, Danny Royer was one of the most explosive players in MLS last season, accumulating 142 points despite starting only 23 matches last year. Additionally, Tyler Adams, Sean Davis, and Alex Muyl combined for 314 points in a 2017 campaign which saw them each enjoy several multi-game runs of strong fantasy production during the season.
In one of the biggest transfers of the offseason, reigning back-to-back MLS assists leader Sacha Kljestan was transferred to Orlando City SC. In exchange for the former captain and some allocation money, the Red Bulls received two young players with major upside: defender Tommy Redding and forward Carlos Rivas. Both of these players have the potential to make a big impact for the club as early as this year, especially given how manager Jesse Marsch has publicly stated that he’s looking to increase the amount of rotation this season to keep his squad fresh.
Former RBNY academy product and New Jersey native Amando Moreno returns to the club after playing for Tijuana in Liga MX for the prior four seasons. The 22-year old forward will likely need some time to get accustomed to New York’s up-tempo philosophy, but he’s another high-upside addition that could produce for the club if he manages to earn Marsch’s trust on the practice pitch.
Red Bull Salzburg midfielder Marc Rzatkowski has been loaned to the New York branch for the 2018 season. Of all the transfers thus far, Rzatkowski is the most likely to have an immediate impact for the club, given the similarities between the Salzburg and New York systems. Thus far in the preseason, he’s been lining up alongside Felipe in the central midfield, but scouting reports indicate he’s dynamic and creative enough where he can theoretically play anywhere in the midfield.
In a very surprising turn of events, on February 2nd Metro NY reporter Kristian Dyer announced that midfielder Muhamed Keita was set to be released. I personally had very high expectations for him this season after seeing him play a handful of matches last season, but it appears that the club has too many midfielders and not enough international slots. Elsewhere, Sal Zizzo departs for Atlanta after three successful seasons with the club. Meanwhile, Kemar Lawrence’s name was mentioned quite a bit as a potential European departure during the transfer window. He will likely be a hot commodity in the summer if last year’s performance carries over into 2018; fantasy managers should keep him on their watchlist in case he gets off to a hot start while “playing for a European contract”.
Lastly, it wouldn’t be your typical New York offseason without some drama. According to the rumor & innuendo out there, 22-year old Argentinian winger Kaku has been a New York Red Bulls target for months. There have been multiple reports that agreements have been made with Kaku’s club Huracan, as well as his agent, to bring him over. So it shouldn’t surprise you to hear that roadblocks keep appearing due to the fact that a second agent is apparently holding up the process. If this all gets sorted out and Kaku makes it over, he has the potential to be one of the league’s top players. Until he lands in New Jersey, however, I’ll continue to hold my breath.
Expected/Predicted Starting XI Picture
To be completely honest, picking a Starting XI is tough for this team, given how many new faces there are at key positions. However, I’ll do my best to pick one in a formation that the club has featured quite a bit so far in the preseason:
For over two years now, Jesse Marsch has been looking to transition to the same 4-2-2-2 formation that propelled Red Bull Leipzig to the upper echelons of Germany’s domestic leagues. Unfortunately, lackluster starts combined with injuries have forced him to revert to the 4-2-3-1 that he utilized in his first season with the club. Last year, however, the Red Bulls transitioned what Marsch called a “3-6-1” early in the summer and enjoyed quite a bit of success with it… and we’ve actually seen this same formation featured a few times thus far in the 2018 preseason.
That being said, I do have a few thoughts about where New York players will be fitting in this season:
• Luis Robles will be the starting goalkeeper until further notice. I’m a huge fan of Ryan Meara, but Robles will be the top dog until he’s injured or his performance completely falls off of a cliff.
• On the back line, Aaron Long and Kemar Lawrence are all but locked in at their respective center-back and left-back positions, and should be early-season fantasy options for managers looking for New York defensive representation. Michael Amir Murillo is also dynamic enough to play on the right side in both a 3-man and 4-man setup, so he’ll pick up a ton of minutes too. The real wild cards this season are Aurelin Collin and Tommy Redding; If Collin can avoid injury and perform at the same level we’ve seen from him in the past few seasons, he should be a mainstay. Meanwhile, if assistant coach Chris Armas can help Redding realize his potential in the way that he did for Aaron Long, then he has a chance to be one of the top players on the New York back line.
• In the defensive midfield, Felipe will continue to rack up all of the minutes and the bonus points (while also being involved enough on the attacking end to pick up a few secondary assists and the occasional rocket goal). He’s definitely your go-to player on New York for a fantasy defensive midfielder. Additionally, keep Marc Rzatkowski on your radars in case he turns into the box-to-box menace that he is currently projected to become based on the scouting report from Austria.
• On the wings, Danny Royer and Tyler Adams are among the league’s best pairings along the wings. Royer was simply explosive for New York last season: his ball-handling is top notch, he makes smart runs into the box quite frequently, and will likely come into the season as the club’s designated PK taker. Meanwhile, Adams will likely be a regular on the US National team for the next decade, and he’s coming into the 2018 season straight from the USMNT January camp. I’m expecting a breakout year for him from a fantasy perspective in what could potentially be his last year in MLS before his inevitable move to Europe.
• Up top, Bradley Wright-Phillips will be the primary target man once again. I expect another double-digit goalscoring season out of him, as well as a handful of assists. Keep him on your watchlist throughout the season as he will likely have another season where he enjoys multi-game streaks of goal-scoring outings. Sean Davis will likely be sitting underneath him centrally in Sacha Kljestan’s old role. The 24-year-old is the club’s best counter-presser and has the touch and vision to replace Kljestan on the attacking end, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him create a turnover and find another New York attacker for a quick goalscoring opportunity several times this season. Additionally, once he has enough time within the system and puts in enough work with Chris Armas, I can easily see Carlos Rivas having a major impact in 2018.
• Elsewhere on the roster, there are quite a few players who will likely see a considerable amount of minutes this season (and could contend for a regular starting XI spot). Alex Muyl, Derrick Etienne Jr. , Connor Lade, Fidel Escobar, Vincent Bezecourt, Hassan Ndam, and Amando Moreno could all potentially see significant playing time, whether it be injuries in the Starting XI or simply earning it on the practice pitch.
Closing Fantasy Thoughts & 2018 Expectations
I’ll be quite honest with you – reading the list of names currently on the roster, this might be the deepest club New York has featured in the past four seasons – and that’s saying something, considering how well-regarded the academy has been for the past several years. As a New York fan, I’m loving it… but as a fantasy manager, it’s actually quite frustrating – especially if Jesse Marsch follows through on his statements regarding a heavier rotation in 2018. Therefore, if I’m looking for RBNY representation early in the season, I’m going to stick with the “Usual Suspects”: Robles, Lawrence, Long, Felipe, Adams, BWP. Once the season progresses and we start to see how the rest of the roster shakes out, I will likely deviate from this group – but in the meantime, these are your go-to players.