Patryk Klimala has experienced a difficult season with the Red Bulls. (© Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK)
By Michael Lewis
A forward who can put the ball in the back of the net on a regular basis can make up for many misgivings and problems a team might endure.
He or she can a turn a game on its head with a timely score or give their side some much needed momentum.
Or they can strike for the game-winning or equalizing tally at death’s door.
To be able to not only survive, but to thrive, team’s need a reliable player up front who can score.
If they don’t have one, success probably won’t come as often and winning a championship could become a problem or the brass ring just too far to reach.
Which brings us to the 2022 Red Bulls, who have had three players – Patryk Klimala, Tom Barlow and Elias Manoel – man the No. 9 position this season with underachieving results.
Entering the 34th and final match of the regular season against Charlotte FC at Red Bull Arena on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET, they have totaled nine goals and four assists in 3,001 minutes. That includes 65 appearances, and 32 starts.
Broken down, here are the numbers:
* Klimala – Five goals, three assists in 1,625 minutes over 20 starts and 27 games (it should be noted Klimala’s base salary is $1 million and guaranteed compensation is $1.135 million, according to the MLS Players Association. So, he has earned $200,000 per goal scored (via base salary), probably not the bang for their buck what the Red Bulls expected).
* Barlow – Four goals and no assists in 1,081 minutes over eight starts and 33 contests.
* Manoel – No goals and one assist in 295 minutes over four starts and five matches (he was a late-season addition)
Not very imposing numbers, period.
If you total their goals, the Red Bulls’ trio is tied for 26th in the league.
The last time either of them scored was Klimala, in the 23rd minute of a 1-1 home draw vs. FC Cincinnati. Translated, that is a six-game striker scoreless streak that totals 607 minutes during the stretch run heading into the playoffs.
Thank heavens to midfielder Lewis Morgan, who has enjoyed a superb season with 14 goals, or the team would have been in dire trouble.
As we have learned about forwards, they can go through hot and cold spells, but the Red Bulls’ strikers essentially haven’t gotten close to tepid.
If the team fails to secure one of the top four spots in the Eastern Conference, or worse, are shown the door in the MLS Cup Playoffs, one of the reasons will be the lack of a consistent goal-scoring threat.
It should be noted that Red Bulls supporters have become accustomed, and perhaps spoiled (but then again, who blames them?) to players with the ability to put the ball into the net on a regular basis since 1996. The names of Giovanni Savarese, Clint Mathis, Adolfo Valencia, Juan Pablo Angel, Thierry Henry, Kenny Cooper and Bradley Wright-Phillips quickly come to mind.
Perhaps one of them will catch fire on Sunday or in the postseason.
And what I mean about catching fire isn’t exactly recording a brace or a hat-trick. A vital goal here or there will suffice. When you get to this juncture of the season, there can be a fine line between success and failure in tight matches, especially in a knockout-round scenario.
The MLS Cup playoffs can be unpredictable.
Sometimes teams who are longshots can make a deep run.
For example, the 2008 Red Bulls reached MLS Cup on one of the most astounding playoff runs in league history before falling to the Columbus Crew (and rightfully so) in the final.
The Red Bulls finished fifth in the Eastern Conference with a sub.-500 record (10-11-9, 39 points). Due to the league’s rather unusual playoffs rules back then, they were placed in the Western Conference bracket. They then proceeded to upset the Houston Dynamo and upend Real Salt Lake en route to the championship game.
Given how teams have improved over the past 14 years, Cinderella teams with sub-500 marks are not as likely these days (especially since only half – 14 – of the 28 clubs qualify for the playoffs).
So, the big question is whether Klimala, Barlow or Manoel can find the net the rest of the season, especially in a timely manner.