New York Red Bulls were continuing to punch above their weight in Major League Soccer. Despite the media predicting them to be the fifth-worst team in the league, they were well in contention for the playoff places at the halfway mark of the 2027 campaign.
The solid start to the season saw the NYRB board offer manager Robinho Lazaró a new contract that upped his wages to £5,000-per-week until the end of the 2028 campaign. And that warned off interest in their manager from Atlanta United and, apparently, Club América.
Last year’s signing Eder Balanta couldn’t get in the team ahead of academy stars Andy Bradley and Quincy Lucas was allowed to leave for Belgium. However, that freed up budget for Lazaró to bring in another legend in 35-year-old Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen on a free transfer.
NYRB already had games in hand on the teams around them and had only played seven of their 17 games at home! A chance to get back to winning ways after five without one arrived at home to Seattle Sounders, for which they had five players on international duty, one injured and star man Lázaro suspended. But they put in a dominant performance to win 3-0 through winger McKinze Gaines and much-needed goals from strikers Patryk Klimala and Superdraft pick Kane Wilson, with all three assisted by midfielder Danilo Gómez.
They were a little unlucky to lose 4-2 at Eastern leaders New England, in which midfielder Lucas Lourenco finally scored his first goal for the club, then drew 0-0 at Western leaders Houston despite racking up 23 shots. But they got back to winning ways back on home ground with a 2-0 success over Toronto, led by a beautiful dinked finish and an assist from Gómez, then gained revenge on New England with a 3-1 win led by a Wilson brace.
Eriksen’s immediate impact
Eriksen made his Red Bulls debut at struggling Atlanta the day after he signed. And he immediately made his mark on MLS as he scored and had four key passes as his side romped Atlanta 5-1! But the star of the show was Nico Bartelt, who returned from international duty with a goal and two assists in what was easily the best performance of Lazaró’s reign.
Eriksen was involved again in his second game as he created the second for young midfielder Shawn Henworth in a 2-0 win at home to San Jose Earthquakes. The good form continued with Klimala scoring both in a 2-0 win at Cincinnati and Lázaro the only goal at home to Chicago, which lifted NYRB up to second in the Eastern Conference. Then an unbelievable performance from Bartelt saw him score four goals to double his tally for the season in the first half at home to Charlotte! And that sealed a playoff place with six games remaining.
Outside title hope?
Heading into the title run-in, NYRB sat second overall in MLS, seven points back from New England and four clear of Salt Lake, who topped the Western Conference, and Montréal.
NYRB continued their strong form with a 3-1 win at Columbus inspired by Eriksen running the show with 11 key passes. Then a trip to Charlotte during an international break left them with no goalkeeper and they got ripped apart 6-2, which was the same amount they’d conceded in their previous 10 games!
That killed off any outside title hopes but they responded in style as Eriksen got two assists and Klimala scored twice in a 4-1 win over Cincinnati. The striker continued his customary end-of-season form with two more in another 4-1 win over Orlando. And that suddenly moved them within three points of New England.
Bizarrely, the season concluded with two games against Inter Miami. First was a trip to Miami and a great start as Bartelt scored inside four minutes. Eriksen volleyed home a second and Klimala wrapped up a 3-1 win to temporarily take NYRB joint-top. New England played later that day and lost 4-1 in Charlotte but stayed top. More of the same followed at home as Bartelt, Klimala’s 20th of the season, Lázaro and Gómez put them four-up inside 18 minutes. Klimala and Lázaro scored again after the break to seal a 6-1 thumping to finish the season in style.
NYRB finished in second place in MLS, finishing level on points with New England and with a better goal difference. But must have lost out on head-to-head after losing 4-2 away and winning 3-1 at home. Is there a harsher way to lose a league title?!
Just like last season, NYRB finished the season in stunning form. Having sat sixth overall halfway into the season, they only lost once in the last 15 games. They scored a club record and league-high 72 goals, winning 21 games, drawing eight and losing five.
CONCACAF Champions League group
The end of the league season was played alongside Lazaró’s first-ever continental group stage, with rivals Philadelphia, Canadians Cavalry FC and Mexican sides Pumas and Tigres. But games were positioned ridiculously close to league games – often two days before! – so Lazaró had no option but to rotate.
The group began with a backup 11 impressively getting a 3-3 draw against Philadelphia before a thumping at Pumas and a strong 1-1 draw with Tigres then lost in Canada to finish bottom. They somehow still made a knockout round, which they did well to only lost 1-0 against Cincinnati.
NYRB entered the MLS Cup end of season playoffs this time with a home draw against Cincinnati. They started well through an early Lázaro strike but the visitors equalised with a stunning free-kick. But NYRB dominated and a brilliant Eriksen pass teed up Bartelt, Klimala scored in first-half injury-time and Eriksen scored just after the break. Cincinnati came back into it but NYRB held on for a 4-3 win.
Next up was the semi-final at home to Montréal. A pretty cagey first half saw NYRB have the better of it and made it count as Bartelt turned home a low Lázaro cross just before the break. However, they did have an xG of 2.55 to Montréal’s 0.37 at the break. That continued in the second half and a Klimala penalty eased them through as they racked up 3.95 xG to 1.00.
That sent them through to the Eastern Conference Final and a tough away game against Supporters’ Shield “winners” New England. Pretty unfairly, that game came just three days after the semi while New England had a totally fresh team. But NYRB brought their momentum into the game and played superbly in the first half, creating loads of chances. They eventually took one as Klimala slid Lázaro through, he rounded the keeper and tucked home. Seven minutes later, Gómez whipped in a cross and Lázaro headed home at the back post to double the tally. New England came back into it after the break and the league’s best player Eduardo Bentancur got them back into it, but NYRB defended superbly to hold them off to win the Eastern Conference and book their place in the final!
MLS Cup Final
Lazaró had led NYRB to only their second-ever MLS Cup final, having previously done so back in 2008. Their opponent in the 2027 MLS Cup Final was Western Conference winners Houston Dynamo, who finished third in the conference, sixth overall and with whom NYRB drew their only meeting this season 0-0 back in June. Houston does have history in the tournament, winning it in 2006 and 2007 and reaching the final in 2011 and 2012.
NYRB’s superior league position gave them home advantage as Houston made the trip to Red Bull Arena. Lazaró had no major injury concerns, so they lined up:
Olses; Arconada, Bradley, Lucas, Foulon; Gómez, Djavan, Eriksen; Bartelt, Lázaro; Klimala
Subs: Wilson, Willcock, Bradford, Padilla, Gaines, Lourenco, Addo, Henworth, Pardo
Red Bulls started the game brightly and a flowing move ended with Gómez poking the ball through for Klimala to slam home inside three minutes. The striker was sent through again by Lázaro just after the half-hour and kept his cool to beautifully chip the keeper. At half-time, they were 2-0 up, dominating by nine shots to four and with 53% possession. The second half was a dull affair until Houston got a goal back with another lovely chipped finish, but Lazaró turned all the time-wasting on and they held on for the biggest win in club history.
New York Red Bulls were Major League Soccer Champions!!
Lazaró led NYRB to the greatest season in club history as another strong second half to the season positioned them for playoff success. The club set new MLS records of 25 wins and the highest points total without winning the Supporters’ Shield. That saw Lazaró named the Sigi Schmid MLS Coach of the Year.
The star man this year had to be Lázaro, who scored 16 and got a league-high and club record 16 assists with a 7.31 average rating in 36 games. He finished the season averaging 8.16 in his last five. He unsurprisingly won fans’ player and signing of the season.
But potentially the key factor in making NYRB champions was Christian Eriksen. The Dane had a club-high 7.35 average rating with three goals and five assists in 15 games and his form led to him winning MLS Newcomer of the Year followed by Lázaro.
Other key performers were top scorer Klimala, who scored 25 and got seven assists and won the Individual Fair Play award for not getting a single booking all season. Fans’ young player of the season Bartelt scored 15 and got 12 assists and Gómez got 11 assists and five goals. While the centre-back pairing of 19-year-olds Bradley and Lucas show you can win with kids, with 7.22 and 7.14 average ratings from 38 and 31 appearances.
A look across the Americas
Argentina: Boca continue to dominate, leading by five points from River at the halfway stage having won the last four titles.
Brazil: Gremio won their first title since 1996, finishing three points clear of Santos. Lazaró’s former club Palmeiras were down in fifth but two of his signings Garcés and Sosa were wanted by Liverpool and Chelsea! And 37-year-old Brenner scored 33 in 64 matches.
Chile: Colo-Colo won the league, finishing 10 points clear of Católica. Sadly, Puerto Montt finished bottom of the league and were relegated back to the second tier.
Colombia: Atlético Nacional were champions after Junior FC won the Clausura stage. Nacional defeated América de Cali in the Finalización final.
México: Tigres just won the Clausura stage and Deportivo Guadalajara won the Apertura. Puebla finished the season down in 14th place.
Peru: Alianza Lima won a third successive title, finishing four points clear of Sporting Cristal after only losing once all season.
Uruguay: Nacional won their sixth title in nine years since Lazaró won the league with River Plate, finishing six points clear of Penarol. River Plate climbed to third, some 18 points back from Nacional.
USA: A Canadian side won MLS as CF Montréal beat Houston Dynamo 1-0 in the MLS Cup Final. NYRB improved to eight in the Eastern Conference, just one point outside the playoffs.
On the job hunt
Lazaró had really enjoyed his time in New York but there was no time to take in Broadway shows or visiting the Empire State Building. He was firmly focused on his target of winning every league in the Americas and that meant, with a heavy heart, he now had to depart NYRB. So, for the first time in his career, Lazaró handed in his resignation. Helpfully, he’d just wrapped up his Continental A Licence which, coupled with having won two national titles, significantly raised his stock.
There were a few jobs available straight away, including one in Uruguay and a few in Argentina. He was swiftly offered an interview by River Plate Montevideo, who quickly came back with an offer that Lazaró delayed to give himself time. He immediately got offered an interview by Argentinians Arsenal de Sirandí, who also made an offer that was delayed.
Lazaró eventually decided River Plate was the better option, mainly because the Argentine side mentioned financial struggles in the interview. So he packed his bags for Uruguay.
Join us next time to discover what awaits Robinho Lazaró as he joins River Plate in Montevideo!