Bradley Wright-Phillips
ESNY Graphic, AP Photo

Ranking the New York Red Bulls’ five worst seasons and estimating if this year’s campaign would make the list.

The New York Red Bulls were embarrassingly knocked out of the CONCACAF Champions League’s quarter-finals by Mexican side club Santos Laguna, 6-2, on aggregate in March. Santos unbelievably netted four goals in nine minutes in the second leg of the series.

Later in June, they were painfully eliminated out of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup’s fourth round in extra-time to their rivals the New England Revolution, 3-2, in front of their home fans. The toughest thing to swallow from that loss is that New England was playing with 10 men after the 95th minute.

In the regular season, they’re one of the most inconsistent teams in the MLS, riding a 7W-3D-6L record, which has them in fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

The team looked uncoordinated far too many times. A lot of fans are so fed up they want head coach Chris Armas out.

Their star player Bradley Wright-Phillips has interestingly been out with a groin injury for 59 days now rather than one to two weeks.

It’s been a painful season for RBNY to say the least, so painful that you can feel how it’s tearing their fans apart on social media:


But how painful is this year compared to other seasons in the club’s 23 years of existence? We ranked New York’s five worst seasons and estimated if things remain this way this year if the 2019 season would make the list:

5. 2011: 5th place, [10W, 8L, 16D], Open Cup quarters

Twenty-eleven is the first season on the list. However, it wasn’t that bad of a season, as New York made the playoffs and clinched the Open Cup’s quarterfinals. It goes to say how successful this club has been during the regular season. They only missed out on the playoffs four times.

Most people would’ve thought 2011 was going to be a solid year for New York. They topped the Eastern Conference the previous season and had one of the most known defenders in the league, Rafael Marquez, and one of the most prominent attackers, Thierry Henry.

On top of that, the team also had the most promising U.S. defender of that time in Tim Ream along with the most promising U.S. forward of that time in Juan Agudelo.

They only lost three of their opening 19 MLS games. The problem was that they didn’t win most of these matches either; The Metros drew 10 of their first 19 MLS outings. New York ended the season with a 10W-16D-8L, it was the most draws the team finished with in a season.

They made the playoffs by just three points. RBNY blanked F.C. Dallas in the Wild Card knockout round, thanks to goals from Joel Lindpere and Thierry Henry.

But then they fell to the eventual champion Los Angeles Galaxy, 1-0, at home in the first leg of the Western Conference semi-finals (yes, New York was in the Western instead of the Eastern Conference semifinal).

In the second leg, Luke Rodgers gave RBNY a 1-0 lead in the fourth minute. This certainly gave New York hope that they could turn things around. But L.A. netted two goals to win the match 2-1.

By the way, former Red Bulls player Mike Magee hit New York with two goals in the series; he did celebrate—both goals.

The Open Cup didn’t go so well for The Metros either. After rallying back for a 2-1 win versus amateur side F.C. New York in the first round, the Chicago Fire rolled over New York, 4-0.

4. 1997: 5th place, [13-19], Open Cup semis

Back in 1997, all you needed to do to make the playoffs was not finish last in your conference that had five teams. Needless to say, New York didn’t make the playoffs. It wasn’t a good second season for RBNY.

It started with three straight losses. They ended the campaign with a 13-19 record, the second most league-losses in the team’s history. RBNY lost five straight matches from May 31, 1997, to July 4, 1997.

They had the Open Cup to cover up their poor domestic season. It started well, as the Metros began their Open Cup run with a 3-0 win over the Richmond Kickers and a 1-0 victory against the Long Island Rough Riders. Then they fell to the first MLS team they had to face, the Dallas Burn, 2-1.

Former MLS star Giovanni Savarese and ex-U.S. midfielder Tab Ramos were part of that team. Ramos only featured in two matches that season.

3. 2002: 4th place, [11W-15L,2D], Open Cup quarters

Two thousand and two didn’t start too bad for New York, they only lost one of their first four outings. But then the team went a month and five days without a victory. RBNY finished the season fifth in the East with an 11W-2D-15L record. They didn’t make the playoffs by just two points.

New York conceded the second most goals in their conference, giving up 47 in 28 games. They also scored the second least with 41.

As for RBNY’s Open Cup, their road ended in the quarter-finals after losing to the Columbus Crew, 2-1.

A month after the season, the club let their head coach Octavio Zambrano go and hired former U.S. coach Bob Bradley.

2. 1999: 6th place, [7-25], Open Cup 3rd round

New York didn’t end the 90s in high fashion. They only won seven of their 32 matches, finishing last in the entire league. In that season they suffered their worst ever loss as they fell to Sporting Kansas City, 6-0.

The team went six straight matches without winning from May 22, 1999, to June 26, 1999, then lost 12 consecutive games from July 4 of that year to Sept. 22.

They conceded the most goals in the league, allowing 64 in 32 games and scored the least with 32.

New York didn’t perform well in the Open Cup either, losing to former USL team, the Staten Island Vipers, 3-2 in their initial round.

One of the United States’ best ever keeper Tim Howard was part of the team that season. Howard was out for most of the year though as he was competing in the FIFA World Youth Championship and the Pan American Games. Howard only played in nine games and averaged 1.58 goals against a game.

1. 2009: 7th place, [5W-19L-6D], No Open Cup

The Red Bulls have a habit of not ending decades well. The 2009 campaign was the club’s worst ever season.

They had a chance to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time ever but bowed down to a team they were supposed to beat. They fell to Trinidad and Tobago side W. Connection F.C., 4-3, on aggregate in the preliminary round in August.

The pain kept growing during the regular season. RBNY lost their opening MLS match to newcomers, the Seattle Sounders, 3-0.

They ended the season in last place with a 5W-19L-6D record. Five victories are the least amount of wins New York ever had during a regular season. The Metros netted the least goals, finding the net 27 times in 30 encounters, and conceded the least with 47.

That season, New York was playing with an interim coach, Richie Williams. The following year, the Red Bulls hired Hans Backe as their head coach, signed ex-Arsenal star Thierry Henry and started playing at the Red Bull Arena. They went from the last spot to first place that season.

Could 2019 be included in this list?

As mentioned, New York has a habit of ending the decade with a rough season. 2019 isn’t going so well. They’re already out of the Open Cup and have an unconvincing 7W-3D-6L record. But if RBNY keeps performing at this rate, would this season break into the top five worst campaigns?

If the team finishes the season at the rate they’re in now they will end the year with a 14W-7D-13L record and will make the playoffs sitting in fifth place.

Plus, New York did get knocked out of the Open Cup in their first game but reached the second round of the Champions League.

As painful as this season sounds, it’s not one of the worst. Red Bulls fans, chin up.

Originally from Haiti, Ralph 'Onz' Chery started his writing career as a City College of New York student with The Campus. He also wrote for First Touch, the Cosmopolitan Soccer League and other local leagues. After graduating, Onz started covering the New York Red Bulls for ESNY and joined Haitian Times.