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Red Bulls: Come For The Stars, Stay For The Youth

-- More coverage of the Red Bulls' season-ending loss to San Jose

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Make no mistake about it: the disproportionate amount of coverage the New York Red Bulls received in 2010 came from the signings of international superstars like striker Thierry Henry and midfielder Rafa Marquez.

But the story of the 2010 season, both in terms of the team's turnaround from 2009 and the legacy it holds in future years, will likely stem from the rookies Tim Ream, Tony Tchani and Juan Agudelo.

The three represent different points in the development curve. Ream was a stalwart defender on the 2010 squad who played every minute of every game. His difficult night was arguably the difference in Thursday's 3-1 loss to San Jose, ending New York's season. But the Red Bulls simply wouldn't have been there without Ream.

"There's not many words to describe it right now," a disconsolate Ream told reporters following the match as he spoke in front of his locker. "We knew we had to play strong. We started that way. We just didn't finish that way."

And maybe it is difficult for Ream to see the future on the rainy night his debut season ended. But Ream's future has far more of the games that nearly won him MLS rookie of the year than the performance against San Jose.

He'll be joined, it is hoped, by Tchani. Injuries cost him the end of his season, and destabilized the defensive midfield. But his emergence was arguably as important to the season as anyone this side of Joel Lindpere.

Agudelo, meanwhile, looked ready to assume a significant role on the 2011 team, even though he can't, as of today, legally purchase a lottery ticket.

"It seemed like I'd done this before," a confident Agudelo said of playing just his second game at the MLS level- both in the playoffs.

And it certainly did, based on his performance. Sure, there were occasional reminders of his inexperience- a failure to find a streaking Dane Richards with ample room near the end of the first half, for instance- but in general, his strength and size made him appear to be a veteran presence.

With the offseason coming, a healthy Henry and Marquez will be the headliners to begin next season as well. But the youth of the Red Bulls may be the stars who finally lead the team to its first MLS Cup. They very nearly did already.