In a suburb of Chicago, one New York soccer team hoisted a major trophy. In the Bronx, another New York soccer team promised an emptying stadium that next year would be better.

The end of the MLS regular season could not have brought two more divergent pictures. The New York Red Bulls clinched the Supporters Shield for a second time in three years with a 2-1 win in Chicago. NYCFC quietly closed the season with their third straight loss, falling 3-1 to the New England Revolution.

While the playoffs still loom for the Red Bulls, the time is right to pass judgement on the season that was for both clubs. (Then again, is there ever not a good time for SPORTS HOT TAKES?)

Let's start with the unexpected winners. The Red Bulls, both through their own choices and by circumstance, were written off before the season even started. The firing of successful and popular coach Mike Petke triggered fan protest, and lead us to wonder if they were trying to be the most miserable NYC-area sports franchise. Thierry Henry's retirement left most wondering where the goals would come from. With a new team across town using all their old tricks, their attendance was expected to take a nose dive.

Inexplicably, nearly everything they did panned out. New coach Jesse Marsch played a high pressure system, and it worked, not only tearing apart the East but leading the league in scoring. They went for solid role players over superstars, and with one of the lowest payrolls in MLS, found success. Their attendance actually rose slightly, and are reportedly ahead of their target for 2016 season tickets already. Hell, their focus on youth development has ruined the season for the Champions of England.

After winning in Chicago - their first win there in over a decade, breaking another curse - and hoisting the Shield, the post-game quote sheet was as (justifiably) smug as you've ever seen.

"At the beginning of the season, even when I remember back to when I was in London in the offseason, I just heard nothing but negative press," said Bradley Wright-Phillips. "What we're going to do about so-called players and we managed to use that as our fuel."

"No one expecting much from us this year," offered team captain Dax McCarty. "A lot of people wrote us off in the beginning. A lot of people gave us no chance to be part of the post season, now we are here."

Has an NYC area team ever gone from "dumpster fire" to "success" so quickly in a single season? And with six playoff appearances and two major titles in three years, have the Red Bulls somehow gone from NYC's most miserable sports team to their most successful sports team this decade? That's so…not Metro?

The Red Bulls will face the lowest remaining seed on the East after this week's knockout round, traveling on November 1st and hosting on November 8th in a two-match series.

Then there's NYCFC, which went mostly in the opposite direction: from "success" to "tire fire".

The hype in the Bronx was intoxicating at the start of the year. A new team, without the aroma of failure that had followed the Red Bulls for much of the last twenty years. Big stars: David Villa, Frank Lampard, and (in mid-season) Andrea Pirlo. Playing in the five boroughs and not Eww, Jersey. Honest media attention and coverage was available. Fans buying up season tickets and merchandise in droves.

But after a successful home opener, reality set in quickly. An eleven match-winless streak put the club in a hole in the standings table they would never climb out of. Lampard (who was delayed half a season) and Pirlo had limited contributions. The team was battered three times by the Red Bulls and once by the second division Cosmos, losing local bragging rights and helping to hand RBNY the Shield. And gradually, the mainstream media disappeared from the press box, mostly leaving small soccer-focused blogs covering the team. Playoff hopes evaporated in early October, thanks largely in part to MLS expanding playoff qualification to 60% of the league.

The one success that stayed constant through the season was support of the fans, a success the team would not understandably stop pointing to on Sunday. Despite the dire results throughout the season, the team maintained an average of 29,016 fans at each game. The supporters groups have hardened in the crucible of disappointing performances, with the Hearts Of Oak revealing a banner that read "THE BEST IS YET TO COME" after the final whistle closed the season.

Knowing what actually comes next isn't clear, even to the armchair psychics. Coach Jason Kreis is on the hottest of seats, with multiple reports flying around over the last week that he was likely facing the axe. Kreis tried valiantly during the post match press conference to justify the season (calling a 10-7-17 record "more of a success" than failure) and his employment ("in this league it takes continuity").

All three of the club's designated players declined to call it a successful season, with Frank Lampard taking the hardest stance: "It can't be anything but a failure to not make the playoffs. We fell below are standards on the pitch." All players promised better performance next year, with the hope of living up to the fan support they've received.

David Villa thanks the #NYCFC Fans | Oct 25th, 2015

#NYCFC Captain David Villa Sánchez addresses the crowd and thanks the fans at Yankee Stadium following last night's final match #WeAreOne

Posted by New York City FC on Monday, October 26, 2015


Having lived through the Historic Inaugural Season, it's hard to know just what to feel about the Bronx Blues. NYCFC built a sizable fan base of their own, and their ground-share at Yankee Stadium worked out fine. But the on-field product was rarely good: the defense leaked like crazy, the roster and personnel decisions were baffling (#FreePoku), and a tremendous amount of money was sunk on players who failed to step up. Perhaps it's time to blow up the coaching staff, blow up the roster, and try building again.

After all…it worked for the Red Bulls.