Aventuras Américas | Part 11 | NYRB #1: Reserves Reach Champions League Final!

After honing his managerial skills in Chile and winning his first national title with Universidad Católica, Robinho Lazaró was a man with a growing reputation. That much was proven as, on 14 December 2025, Major League Soccer side New York Red Bulls appointed the Colombian / Brazilian to replace his slightly more famous predecessor Fabio Cannavaro.

The American side quadrupled Lazaró’s wages to £4,000-per-week but, worryingly, Lazaró had absolutely no idea how the MLS worked. Luckily, his new PA Dubán Castillo sent him a helpful, if very wordy explanation:

Who are New York Red Bulls?

New York Red Bulls was founded in 1994 as the MetroStars and became the New York/New Jersey MetroStars in 1996. It was then sold to Red Bull and rebranded in 2006. The club has dedicated supporter sections, including the Empire Supporters Club, Garden State Supporters, Viking Army Supporters Club and Torcida 96.

The club plays at the 25,219 capacity Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. Red Bulls have won the Supporters’ Shield, which goes to the team that wins the league outright, three times, but has never won the MLS Cup, which is the playoff process that follows the league.

The club has local rivalries with New York City FC and DC United. The Red Bulls count Bradley Wright-Phillips as a legend plus Juan Pablo Ángel, Jozy Altidore and Tim Howard as icons.

Meet the New York Red Bulls squad

The best player at NYRB is Venezuelan goalkeeper Carlos Olses, along with Belgian full-back Daam Foulon. The club has a mass of South Americans with other leading players being another Venezuelan in midfielder Cristian Cásseres, Brazilian midfielder Djavan and Argentinian defender Facundo Giacopuzzi and winger Álvaro Barreal. The best, and in truth, only half-decent American player at the club is promising homegrown striker Evan Harris. Luckily, the board didn’t have very high expectations, only expecting their new manager to “avoid finishing bottom of MLS.”

Draft time

NYRB finished 24th out of 28 teams in MLS in the recently concluded 2025 campaign, with 38 points from 34 games. They finished 10 points outside of playoff qualification, so there’s plenty of work to be done by the new manager when he can work out how MLS works.

Their poor season last time out meant they got the fifth pick in the “waiver draft,” which came two days after Lazaró joined the club and he had no idea how good any of the players were. As a result, he ended up taking his assistant’s advice and signing two players he immediately released! That was quickly followed by the “Superdraft,” in which NYRB had the fourth and fifth overall picks. That saw them pick up exciting American midfielder Andrés Padilla and backup full-backs Benjamin Addo and Tarik Kabbaj.

Lazaró received a mass of ridiculous trade deals from clubs asking to be given allocation money and NYRB’s best players, which were swiftly rejected. But Lazaró did do a trade deal with Atlanta United to swap Barreal for American international Emerson Hyndman, who immediately became the best player at the club. He also dipped into his South American knowledge to snap up a new striker, signing Ricardinho for £250,000 from Gremio, and loaned in another attacking option in Bayern youngster Nico Bartelt. Then some last-minute transfer madness saw them snap up left-back Enzo Ybanez from the waivers.

Tactics-wise, Lazaró was leaning towards a 4-1-3-2 approach with options to play wider in a 4-3-3 and a backup diamond option. They were a little weak in defence, given Lazaró had to promote two young centre-backs Andy Bradley (18) and Quincy Lucas (17) from the NYRB Academy. But the new boss was relatively pleased with the rest of the squad available to him.

Champions League debacle

Lazaró’s first games in charge of NYRB were in a CONCACAF Champions League second-round clash with Trinidad & Tobago side Jabloteh. However, he only had five current first-team players registered for the competition! The home leg was up first and NYRB started well and made it count through Polish striker Patryk Klimala, who doubled his tally a few minutes after the break. Winger McKinze Gaines smashed home a late penalty to seal a convincing 3-0 win. A 2-1 win away saw them safely through.

Next up was a quarter-final tie with Mexican side Xolos Tijuana, who were huge favourites. A ridiculous finish by Klimala (see below) nicked the away leg in injury-time. What even is that finish?! Amazing! Then a Harris double in the home leg sealed a 3-0 win and progression to the semi-finals, where they were the only non-Mexican side.

A much tougher test saw them face 2023 runners-up and 2020 winners Tigres, who had a striker that came second in the 2026 NxGn award. A massively depleted NYRB defended superbly to only lose 1-0 away then had a crazy second leg. 19-year-old transfer-listed Iranian midfielder Mohsen Pishdad, who Lazaró had never even heard of curled home a free-kick to give NYRB an early led. Midfielders Danilo Gómez and Cásseres hit wonderstrikes either side of a Tigres goal but their wonderkid striker got it back to 3-2, which gave the Mexicans the edge on away goals.

However, the visitors swiftly had a player sent off for a horror challenge on the edge of their own box. Watching on, Lazaró encouraged Pishdad to take the opportunity on and prayed for him to repeat the feat, and he did! They went defensive and held on. After just four months in charge and less than five years as a manager, Lazaró was taking the Red Bulls to the CONCACAF Champions League Final!

First taste of MLS

NYRB’s summer dealings saw the American media predict them to finish an ambitious 11th in MLS at 150/1 to win it. LAFC are 1/4 favourites followed by Orlando City, reigning champions Minnesota, Atlanta and Colorado (all 33/1).

Lazaró’s first domestic match outside of Chile saw his NYRB side entertain Philadelphia Union. Both sides worked hard without creating any substantial chances and played out a 0-0 before an unlucky 1-0 defeat at Toronto, where Klimala missed a late sitter, then a 2-1 loss at Montréal, where they missed two open goals in injury-time! Another defeat looked likely as they trailed 2-0 at home to early leaders Charlotte but Harris and Bartelt goals sealed a decent comeback draw.

A first win in the USA finally arrived as they exacted revenge on Toronto despite a very harsh red card for right-back Anílson on 43 minutes. A first away point followed at Inter Miami but the league performances were generally awful until a second win came at home to Chicago Fire quickly followed by a third as a superb Padilla free-kick, which was his first goal for the club, edged rivals DC United 1-0.

The continental run came back to bite NYRB as they had to pack in nine league games in May, including twice playing two games in three days. And they only won one of them but did gain a 1-1 draw against reigning champions Minnesota on Lazaró’s birthday.

That forced Lazaró into a change of formation and a variation on the 4-3-3 he’d used at Católica. That got its first outing against Orlando City and, after a slow start, got the desired result as a Klimala brace sealed a long overdue 2-1 win.

That leaves NYRB sitting 12th in the Eastern Conference and 21st of 28 teams overall at the halfway mark. They’ve only scored 12 and conceded 17 in 17 matches, so entertainment is very much not on offer so far under Lazaró!

CONCACAF Champions League Final

Red Bulls had reached their first-ever Champions League and were just the third American team to reach the final, after Salt Lake in 2011 and Atlanta in 2022 (plus Montréal in 2015 and Toronto in 2018 and 2021).

Their opponent in the big game was Mexican giants and three-time winners Club América who, obviously for a continental final, were at home, which seemed a bit unfair! That meant Lazaró and his boys took the trip to the outrageously impressive Estadio Azteca in Ciudad de México.

However, NYRB were nowhere near the quality of América, let alone an exhausted NYRB reserves. And the Mexicans ran riot but only won 2-0 after 18 shots to five, which Lazaró was genuinely pleased with. But the registration rules of this competition have to be questioned if a team goes into the latter stages with virtually its entire current team unregistered! Olses won the Champions League best goalkeeper award and Red Bulls were the Fair Play Award winners.

Can Robinho Lazaró arrest his New York Red Bulls’ uninspired form in MLS? Join us next time to find out!

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