By Michael Lewis
You probably know this already, but it should be brought to any fans’ attention that the the Major League Soccer team that calls New Jersey home doesn’t do quite well in years ending with a nine.
As the New York/New Jersey MetroStars in 1999, the franchise endured one of the worst season in league history with an abysmal 7-25 record.
As the Red Bulls in 2009, the team followed suit with an atrocious 5-19-6 mark. That occurred a year after the club made a miracle run to the 2008 MLS Cup final.
Just call it the curse of the nine.
Given MLS teams histories of what comes up, must come down, the Red Bulls should be due for a down year. It has happened to every MLS team that has won the MLS Cup or enjoyed excellent runs. Since that 2009 disaster, the Red Bulls haven’t missed the playoffs, a feat envied by many teams. And it has taken home the Supporters Shield three times in the past six years.
Saying that, the team Denis Hamlett and Chris Armas have put together should be “recession proof,” because there is plenty of promising Homegrown talent on the squad and depth in vital places.
During the offseason, the team doesn’t rebuild, it reloads, and the 2019 version looks ready to rock and roll again.
The best defense returns intact. Every player across the backline has played for their respective national team at one time or another. You’ve got Kemar Lawrence (Jamaica) and Michael Amir Murillo (Panama) at the left and right backs, respectively. In the middle, there are two players trying to become regulars with the U.S. national team — Aaron Long and Tim Parker, who are in the prime of their careers.
While the door to the U.S. national side apparently is closed for Luis Robles (he has made three appearances), the 34-year-old goalkeeper is among the most reliable netminders in the league.
The midfield boasts the most depth. The starting five for Wednesday night’s 3-0 win over Atletico Pantoja included Alex Muyl, Sean Davis, Kaku, Daniel Royer and Marc Rzatkowski. And then there are Derrick Etienne, Jr., Florian Valot, Vincent Bezecourt and Andreas Ivan (who scored as a sub Wednesday), who are knocking on the door. Oh yeah, there’s also 19-year-old Venezuelan youth international Cristian Casseres and 18-year-old Ben Mines as well.
If there is are weaknesses its that the team doesn’t have a proven deputy for Bradley Wright-Phillips in case he is injured over a long period of time, and that it lacks the presence of Tyler Adams, now plying his trade with RB Leipzig in Germany. While the Red Bulls have midfielders who can do dominates games, there is no one in the same orbit as Adams, who seemingly was here, there and everywhere.
Winning back-to-back Supporters Shields might be too much to ask for the team — it has only been accomplished three times — twice by D.C. United and one by Columbus Crew SC. Saying that, the Red Bulls would trade that trophy for another — the Philip F. Anschutz trophy, emblematic of winning the MLS Cup.
If that occurs, the curse of the nine could turn into a big blessing rather than a curse this year.