Carlos Coronel enjoyed a spectacular season in goal. (USA TODAY Sports)

For the 12th consecutive year, the Red Bulls reached the MLS Cup playoffs.

There are two ways to dissect that statement.

On a positive note, the Harrison, N.J.-based club has been good enough since 2010 to reach the postseason. Certainly, no mean feat.

On the negative side, the Red Bulls haven’t won a Major League Soccer championship during that span. In fact, they have qualified for a final as well.

The lone time they did was in a miraculous playoff run in 2008 when the team won the Western Conference playoff crown and played the Columbus Crew in MLS Cup, losing, 3-1.

The Red Bulls have been around since the league’s inaugural season in 1996, with no championship to show, outside of its three Supporters’ Shield winning squads. In America, however, a team’s success is not measured on how they perform during the regular season, but in the postseason.

Meanwhile, across the river, New York City FC won the MLS Cup in only its seventh season.

Like it or not, the Red Bulls have become the Cleveland Indians of first division soccer in this country (the Indians, who lost to the Chicago Cubs, another team that snapped a seemingly endless drought, in the 2016 World Series; they haven’t celebrated a world championship since 1948).

The Red Bulls’ hopes for MLS Cup or a deep run in the playoffs ended on Nov. 20 with a 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union in the Eastern Conference first round in Chester, Pa. Jakob Glesnes tallied the lone goal of the match.

“Very painful,” head coach Gerhard Struber said.

“Everyone left everything on the field, and this is in the end … very, very painful,” he continued. “But I am more proud of my boys at the moment. I know this is a very disappointing moment when you go out of the playoffs. But I can say to every single player heads up. I think sometimes when you lose it’s hard. But the way how we lose, I must say I can live very good with that. This showed me my players have a mindset like winners. We are ready to go out of our comfort zone.”

The team barely made the playoffs, securing the final conference spot with a seventh-place finish behind a 13-12-9 mark and 48 points, one more than D.C. United and Columbus Crew SC.

After dropping a 2-1 decision at Columbus on sept. 14, he Red Bulls went 7-1-4 down the stretch to reach the playoffs. In many respects, the results belied the team’s strengths and weaknesses on both sides of the ball.

The squad outscored its foes, 14-5, in those dozen matches, as the defense – team, backline and goalkeeper – sparkled. The Red Bulls did not give up more than one goal in that span, recording seven clean sheets.

“I’ve been able to deal with all these situations but little by little we worked very well together, worked very, very hard,” Red Bulls head of sport Kevin Thelwell said. “We’re learning about the group and learning about the space. If I signpost you to the last 13-14 games, I think we ended up with a 1.92 points per game average, which in anybody’s perspective should be very, very good form. So it’s clear that we’ve got a clear, very good identity. It’s clear that there’s still some work to do. But I think he’s proven to be a very, very good head coach.”

And some very good players as well.

* With an attack that averaged barely more than one goal per match (39 in 34 games), goalkeeper Carlos Coronel was forced to stand on his head in many games, especially during tight ones down the stretch. While he wasn’t among the top five MLS goalkeepers in the end of the year voting, Red Bulls supporters realized the Brazilian’s importance to the team. The club exercised its option to purchase the 24-year-old Coronel’s contract from sister club Red Bull Salzburg on Dec. 1. Five days later, the Red Bulls signed the keeper to a three-year contract with an option for 2025. For the record, Coronel, who finished with a 0.97 goals-against average, tied for the league lead in shutouts (13) with Nashville SC’s Joe Willis and the Colorado Rapids’ William Yarbrough.

* Captain and midfielder Sean Davis demonstrated his leadership on the field and in the locker room. He was one of three field players in the league who played every minute of every regular season game – 3,060 over 34 contests. In many Zoom postgame press conferences, Davis had few excuses for the team when it lost.

* When Aaron Long went down with his Achilles injury early in the season, Massapequa, N.Y. native Sean Nealis stepped into his role and stepped up his play as he impressed and improved during the campaign. The Red Bulls dealt for his brother, right back Dylan Nealis, from Nashville earlier on Dec. 16.

* Left back Andrew Gutman enjoyed a strong season, but had to return to Atlanta United, from which he was loan, for next season.

There is something to build on, but there is much more to improve on.

Former Polish youth international forward Patryk Klimala, 22, led the team with eight goals, did not live up to expectations or potential. His salary led all Red Bulls players as he earned a base salary of $1 million with a guaranteed compensation of $1.135 million.

Fabio, who collected a team-high seven assists, was next in goal-scoring (seven), followed Cristian Casseres Jr. (six). Both players had their moments.

While paths to a team’s success will vary, they need at least one goal-scorer or a go-to guy in double digits.

Like the Indians, Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox, who endured championship droughts, there is always hope.

Long, who was invited to U.S. men’s national team training camp in December, will return from his disabling injury.

On Dec. 12, the club acquired Scottish winger Lewis Morgan from Inter Miami CF in exchange for $1.2M in General Allocation Money over two years.

“I’m excited [about] the future with this team,” Struber said after the Union loss. “I think we made a big step in the season and then right now we are on the level to manage games against the teams like Philadelphia, of course a team and everyone knows that is on the highest level.”

Still, there are many things to do before the Red Bulls can become a power.

“We have many [thing] to do in the transfer [window],” Struber said, adding that his “big goal that we can hold every player in my group.”

“Also, in the regular season, a team they are from the first game until the last game, a winning team. I think the [2021] season showed us we are not always a winning team. We have a big rollercoaster [ride] over the whole season. And I think we start right now on a completely different level in the next season.”