A strange start to life in America had seen Robinho Lazaró somehow stumble into a Champions League Final with a bunch of reserves and struggle to inspire his New York Red Bulls players in Major League Soccer.
However, with a mad schedule slightly easing off, the Colombian / Brazilian manager was hopeful of a stronger showing in the second half of the 2026 campaign. June 2026, which clashed with the ongoing World Cup, also saw the boss earn his Continental B Licence, which boosted his reputation to 3-stars and had his attributes beginning to resemble those of a real Football Manager.
Hoping for improvement
NYRB had hugely struggled for goals through the first half of the season, as a 1-1 draw with Montréal took them to 13 scored in 18 games. But that all changed with an uncharacteristic 5-2 thrashing of Austin FC, in which a brace from striker Patryk Klimala took him into double figures for the season and young centre-back Quincy Lucas scored his first for the club.
They’d also gone eight away games without a win, but that victory seemed to spark life into NYRB games. As they then went to Real Salt Lake and won another seven-goal thriller with Klimala bagging another brace along with a strike by their exciting Superdraft first-round selection Andrés Padilla, which won the AT&T Goal of the Week.
Two games in a week against New England Revolution followed, which saw both sides claim home wins. NYRB’s win was sealed by Brazilian striker Ricardinho, who finally scored in his 13th game for the club! And out of nowhere, NYRB were suddenly staking a claim for playoff contention, trailing seventh-placed Toronto by three points with a game in hand – but with 12 games still remaining.
Signing old legends
Another transfer window opened in early July and Lazaró thought it would be remiss of him not to snap up some aging legends while in MLS. So he scoured the market and, after being rejected by Christian Pulisic, Mario Gotze, Sadio Mané and Marco Verratti, he snapped up striker Gonzalo Higuaín, now 38 and retiring in November, and former Football Manager wonderkid legend Éder Álvarez Balanta.
Outside playoffs hope?
The two veterans arrived in time for the final 10 games of the season, which started with a tough away day at MLS leaders Vancouver Whitecaps. But, out of nowhere, NYRB put an inspired performance to nick a 2-0 win with Balanta impressing on his debut.
Balanta bagged his first goal in a 1-1 draw with rivals NYCFC, who’d replaced Vancouver at the top. Then NYRB nicked a hugely undeserved 2-1 win in the Turnpike Derby at Philadelphia Union. And that lifted them into the playoff positions for the first time all season!
A four-week break did NYRB the world of good as they demolished second in the conference Cincinnati 5-0. That was led by a brilliant hat-trick from Bayern loanee Nico Bartelt – who, apparently, is the next Oliver Bierhoff – which doubled his tally for the season! They then nicked all three points in an exciting 3-2 win over Columbus Crew, in which Bartelt popped up with a brace including a 92nd-minute winner.
The sudden turnaround in form continued to five wins on the bounce and seven without losing with a 1-0 win at Seattle then beating Inter Miami 2-0 at home. They then set a new club record for successive wins with a 3-2 win at struggling Chicago Fire. But that came to an end with a 1-0 loss at home to Colorado. But they recovered with a brilliant come from behind 2-1 win at Cincinnati to book their place in the end-of-season playoffs (and note the skin change…)
And they finished the campaign in style with a 2-1 win at Atlanta United as midfielder Djavan scored his first goal of the season in the final match of the season!
That saw NYRB finish the regular season fourth in the Eastern Conference, having been 10th with 12 games remaining! They also climbed into sixth in the overall MLS table. NYRB won 10 of their last 13 games to fly into playoff contention, largely inspired by Klimala scoring 15 in his last 17 games! That saw him end up as second-top scorer in MLS with 17 goals, only bettered by New England newgen striker Eduardo Bentancur.
If they were going to win the MLS Cup, NYRB would have to do it the hard way. The first round of the playoffs drew them with local rivals Philadelphia, of which the winner would face another local rival and Supporters’ Shield winners NYCFC.
The first round in Philadelphia started well as Bartelt scored after 11 minutes. But the hosts came flying back with a hat-trick by their left-winger. Bartelt got a late second to make it interesting, but it wasn’t enough and NYRB exited at the first stage.
This turned into an unexpectedly good season at Red Bulls, with a playoff finish after an unexpected Champions League Final with a team full of reserves!
The main man this season was Klimala, who top-scored with 21 goals in 40 games. But an unexpected hero was 18-year-old centre-back Andy Bradley, who regularly performed well and finished with a 7.06 average rating. Bartelt chipped in with 10 goals, of which five were in two consecutive games, winger McKinze Gaines scored nine but no one else got more than three. Midfielder Danilo Gómez had the most assists with a lowly eight, so that’s something that needs focus in the off-season.
Lazaró came third in the MLS Coach of the Year award and Hyndman, who was very poor this season and is moving to Strasbourg, won the intriguing Humanitarian of the Year presented by AdvoCare award.
Can Robinho Lazaró build on a solid first year in New York and challenge for honours with his Red Bulls next season? Join us next time to find out!