- Associated Press - Thursday, March 3, 2016

HARRISON, N.J. (AP) - The MLS offseason generally meant turmoil for the New York Red Bulls because of roster changes and new coaches.

But after posting a league-best 18-10-6 record and winning the MLS Supporters’ Shield, the revolving door has stopped.

“There was always this uncertainty going into the postseason,” said midfielder Dax McCarty, who has played five years with the club and earned MLS Best XI last season. “But this new regime came in and wanted to build a solid foundation for the future. The big thing was that they wanted to bring people back.”

The Red Bulls kick off a new season Sunday at home against Toronto FC. There are fewer new faces on the roster, with the most recent addition of defender Gideon Baah of Ghana this month.

“We’re not changing much,” said second-year coach Jesse Marsch, who was voted MLS Coach of the Year last season. “We believe in what we’re doing. We’re going to see if we can be exceptional in the things we’re doing. We’ll vary our tactics to give teams different looks.”

Ten of the 11 Red Bull players who started in the final match in the MLS Cup playoffs last year have returned this season. They include McCarthy, leading scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips, top goalkeeper Luis Robles, midfielders Sacha Kjiestan and Lloyd Sam.

Marsch and sporting director Ali Curtis decided last year there’d be no more expensive contracts awarded to big-named foreign players. They were going to try homegrown players.

Skeptics wondered whether the plan would work, but it evidently did. The Red Bulls set a franchise record for wins in a season before falling in the Eastern Conference finals to the Columbus Crew.

“We were 3-1 in the playoffs,” Marsch said. “We just fell a little short. But we learned a lot about ourselves. We learned how to grow as a unit. We’re angrier and hungrier than ever because we fell short at the end of the year. And we’re certainly not catching anyone by surprise. We have set ourselves up for success later in the year. The rest of the league has to respect the way we play.”

Wright-Phillips scored a team-high 17 goals last year and has 44 in the last two seasons. He’ll play a second season with older brother Shaun, who was signed midseason and played 12 games.

“It’s very important that we emphasize team and family,” Bradley said. “We wanted to keep the same core group of people and that’s only going to benefit us.”

Curtis knew that massive changes wouldn’t be the answer.

“What happened to the club last year was fantastic,” he said. “It was a great year, a great season. Everything was just sort of aligned right. We’re sticking to the plan. We have an opportunity to win the MLS Cup this season.”

McCarty knows that the chemistry for success is there.

“I think the one year together will only make us stronger,” McCarty said. “The club made a big emphasis on having that continuity and familiarity. The foundation is here to sustain the level of success. We have a higher, refreshed sense of optimism.”

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