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February 17, 2015 at 6:00 AM

MLS Countdown, No. 18: New York Red Bulls

We’re counting down the days until the Major League Soccer opener — Chicago at Los Angeles on March 6 — by marching backward through Matt Pentz’s projected league standings for upcoming season.

Today, we catch up with the New York Red Bulls following a disastrous offseason in Harrison, N.J.

A refresher: The Thierry Henry farewell tour — which stretched out for months, even if the man himself wouldn’t confirm his intention to leave until the end of the year — ground to a halt just one goal shy of the MLS Cup final. New York and New England played out an Eastern Conference championship for the ages, 4-3 on aggregate, as Charlie Davies struck twice in the second leg and the Revs held off the Red Bulls surge for another away goal that would’ve sent them through.

New York was tops in the Eastern Conference in goals scored last season, as Bradley Wright-Phillips won the league’s Golden Boot. With Henry dropping dimes from his withdrawn playmaker role and Tim Cahill (occasionally) providing a secondary threat, Wright-Phillips scored 27 goals in the regular season and four more in the playoffs.

The pessimist’s take: Where do you want to start? Henry retired, and popular coach Mike Petke was shoved unceremoniously out the door. There are rumors that Red Bull is looking to sell its ownership stake, and Cahill is now a member of Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese Super League. The Red Bulls were rebuffed in their bid for former star Jozy Altidore, who headed to Toronto instead, and that nightmare of a commute to Harrison for fans isn’t getting any closer.

New York City FC, for all its own missteps, could eat away at NYRB’s already tenuous fan base, and the glamorous confines of Red Bull Arena could easily become an albatross.

The optimists’s take: All that said, this team might be the most likely to prove this projected standings wrong. There’s a lot of talent still hanging around RBA.

The league’s defending leading scorer, for one, as Wright-Phillips signed a designated player contract. Dax McCarty can still ball, and he’s got a new midfield running mate as USMNT veteran Sacha Kljestan returned to the States after a successful few years in Belgium. In this Eastern Conference, the playoff teams and the also-rans are likely to be only a hot or cold streak away.

Check back tomorrow, as the countdown continues with the No. 17 Philadelphia Union … 

| More in MLS, MLS Countdown

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