The window closes
October 22, 2019
Somehow, we don't feel as bad about this year's playoff loss as we did in many years previous. Yes, Metro blew a two-goal lead (not for the first time!), but it all seems hollow. There was absolutely no confidence that this team could win straight four road games and win MLS Cup. Sure, they could have gotten by Philly, and then maybe by Atlanta, and then -- who knows, right? Not this year.
In years prior, MLS's vaunted parity painted the playoffs in a different light. Even when Metro's squad wasn't up to par, the relative equality of all the teams made everything seem possible (just remember the 2008 team, so faulty in every area of the field, somehow making it to MLS Cup). That is not the case anymore. MLS has is clearly divided itself into classes, and the talent in the upper core (Atlanta, LAFC, potentially others) clearly outweighs Metro's.
This was fine in years past. Jesse Marsch's arrival in 2015 (for all the awfulness that surrounded it) instilled a system that pushed Metro to two Supporters Shields, despite the lack of big-name stars. A great striker (Bradley Wright-Phillips), an excellent goalkeeper (Luis Robles), and an exceptional defensive midfielder (first Dax McCarty, then Tyler Adams) were enough to place Metro at the top of MLS charts for four straight years. (There was no major playoff success, but at least there was hope.) This year, when the injury to BWP and the failure to replace Adams, the spine of the team was torn out, and we were left with the middling mediocrity we just witnessed.
The pieces are there: Robles is still on top of his game, Kemar Lawrence is the best left back in the league, Aaron Long and Tim Parker can be as good as a defensive duo as anyone else. When he is on his game, Daniel Royer is a fantastic secondary option. After that...
After that, we have holes. Alejandro Romero Gamarra, for all that he brings, has fallen off a cliff since Chris Armas took over for Marsch. Statistics don't tell the whole story, but we need better than five goals, six assists from the supposed midfield maestro. The rest of the team? Sure, there are some salvageable pieces, but it feels like a full rebuild is needed.
This is not MLS 1.0 or 2.0 or even 3.0. You need difference makers to win -- and this team doesn't have any. And while Red Bull did pony up the money for Kaku two years ago, the only incoming transfer this year was a wasteful spend on a Danish wunderkind who couldn't hack it in the USL.
There is nothing wrong on relying on youth; it has worked for Red Bull's European teams, and it has worked to a point here. The academy produced Adams, the reserve team produced Long, and a number of useful players have moved up through the ranks. But the academy and the reserve team can't be your only source of talent. They were this year, and look where it got us: no offense to Rece Buckmaster or Tom Barlow, but they should not be starting playoff games.
So where does it leave us? The window that was created by Marsch has been closed shut. The team has run its course. Time to keep the key pieces and rebuild, which means investing money in difference makers. Will Red Bull be on board?
We doubt it.