Harrison, NJ – Harrison, NJ (SportsNetwork.com) - For Red Bull New York, the goal for the 2014 MLS season is clearly stated: Win MLS Cup.
After a momentous 2013 campaign that saw first-year head coach Mike Petke guide the Red Bulls to the MLS Supporters' Shield - their first-ever piece of major silverware - there is a sense of unfinished business at the club.
New York flamed out of the postseason in slightly disappointing fashion last term, surrendering a goal to Omar Cummings in extra time as the Red Bulls bowed out on their home ground to the Houston Dynamo.
It shouldn't have come as a massive surprise given that the Supporters' Shield winner has gone on to claim MLS Cup just twice in the past 11 seasons - the Columbus Crew accomplished the feat in 2008 when they edged the Red Bulls in the final, while the Los Angeles Galaxy claimed the double in 2011.
But following such a debilitating end to the season, there can be no debate that anything less than one major trophy in 2014 would be a significant letdown.
The Red Bulls recognize this, and it's precisely why they have opted for continuity in the squad.
New York has been known to overhaul its roster from year to year, but relatively futile efforts on the pitch, which yielded no return, meant that the organization's decision to rebuild was often justified.
This year, though, the club has a proven winner. And Petke backed his players ahead of the new campaign.
"It's been almost a cliche about the New York organization over the years having an overhaul in the offseason, and that's something I want to get away from," Petke told the club's official website. "We have good chemistry and a good returning core. There's no reason to mix it up just for the sake of it."
The Red Bulls certainly boast one of the most talented rosters in the league. Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill lead the way with their unrivaled ability and experience, but the club's supporting cast was just as crucial to its success last year.
Dax McCarty garnered a bit of recognition as a long shot for MVP honors with his superb two-way play in the center of the park, while Eric Alexander and Jonny Steele provided width and supreme service from the flanks.
A few tweaks to the roster were necessary, of course. Due to salary cap constraints, the Red Bulls waved goodbye to striker Fabian Espindola and defender Markus Holgersson and made way for Bobby Convey and Richard Eckersley. New York also added Spanish defender Armando, a player with ties to world-power Barcelona.
The signings of Eckersley and Armando appear to be for depth purposes as Petke shed some light on the club's preferred partnership in the center of defense.
"We're not looking for a starting center back," Petke continued. "We're comfortable with what we have ... We've got (Jamison) Olave, who is the best pure defender in the league, and then we have (Ibrahim) Sekagya, with all the experience he has, and then (Matt) Miazga, with the high hopes we have ... if not immediately, then in the near future."
But perhaps the greatest improvement for New York heading into the new season is not even a roster addition. It may very well be Petke's brief trip to England with RBNY sporting director Andy Roxburgh, a journey that has helped the former Red Bulls defender learn a few tricks to the coaching trade.
"I picked up a ridiculous amount of preparation stuff, behind-the-scenes stuff, player management," Petke told New York's official website. "A lot of that reassured that I did things correctly this year with my staff, and ... half of it was very fresh, new ideas that I liked."
It's scary to imagine Petke having a better handle on his team than he did in 2013, but if he's successful, the Red Bulls may be strong favorites to achieve their MLS Cup target this year.
ADDITIONS: Armando (D), Bobby Convey (M), Richard Eckersley (D).
LOSSES: Fabian Espindola (F), Markus Holgersson (D), Brandon Barklage (D).
OUTLOOK: With the majority of the Supporters' Shield-winning roster returning, there is no reason to believe that the Red Bulls won't contend for major trophies in 2014. Cahill flourished last term as the season went on, so the sky is the limit if he can provide the same output over the course of the whole season. There may be questions asked of the club's forward line should Henry suffer injury, but the Red Bulls are balanced enough to compensate with goals coming by committee. With so few clubs managing to win both the Supporters' Shield and MLS Cup in the same season, it will be interesting to see which trophy gets preferential treatment from Petke. The Red Bulls may be involved in the race for Supporters' Shield once again, but if players are rested late in the season, it would show that Petke places greater importance on playoff success this time around.