Tim Hall’s View From 101
Now that the dust has settled, somewhat, in New York Red Bulls land, now that people have screamed themselves hoarse, cried themselves dry, and spent themselves broke to voice their frustrations at the powers that be, both in their panic rooms in Harrison and in their ivory towers in Austria, now that most of the rostered players have begun the hard preseason work in Florida, perhaps now we can discuss what this team will look like when it actually takes the field.
Nerves are still very raw after the firing of beloved head coach Mike Petke. People have called for heads to roll and seen none. The focuses of those most angry have turned from the white heat of rage to the cold focus of calculation. Much more will be said and done about these things. Ultimately, however, a team will take the field, regardless of the thoughts of those in the stands or watching on television. Many may take umbrage with the name of the team or the shirt sponsor, currently one in the same, but in a linear sense, it is still the same team you have been supporting all along. You are, in the end, only rooting for laundry, regardless of how garish and gauche you believe that laundry to be.
The theme during last year’s offseason was stability. No sense in radically reshaping a team that had just won the league. Entering this offseason, the sense was largely the same, despite the tickle in the back of most people’s brains that Thierry Henry would depart at the end of 2014. Losing Henry would be a blow, but a good core had been built around him, and a few shrewd moves could place this team right back in contention.
Instead, the new management regime has decided to bind stability up with twine and set it near the curb to be taken away. Losing the veteran presence of Henry has led them to pull out that old reliable chestnut of sports “we want to get younger.” Oh, but don’t we all.
Luis Robles remains the stalwart in net, while goalkeeper-in-waiting Ryan Meara has been sent across the Hudson River on a one year loan. Not a bad move, getting the young man some playing time. Besides, there is a goalkeeper-in-waiting-in-waiting on the roster in the form of young Santiago Castano, who many people rate very highly for the future. “Many people” unfortunately don’t include the Red Bulls front office, who made a move to bring in former Chicago goalkeeper Kyle Reynish. For all the work Meara got last year as the backup (five appearances), and in a league where pool goalkeepers are kept on file should anyone need one, and in a country where just about the one position we reliably produce is goalkeepers, this seems like an overall waste of resources.
Defense has been a particular bugaboo for this team, one made much worse with the departure of central defenseman Jamison Olave, who, aside from being a reliable rock and leader, was among the last people you’d want to encounter in a Medellin barfight. Again, this would seem like a situation where youth could be served, with American youth international Matt Miazga sliding in and beginning his bright future as a full-time professional. Surely, there would be growing pains, but that is part and parcel of building for the future. Instead, sporting director Ali Curtis and company signed three centerbacks, including the returning, handsome, but rarely used Damien Perrinelle. One can imagine MLS forwards are licking their chops at the thought of charging down the pipe at the formidable tandem of Armando and Ronald Zubar. On the flanks, young Chris Duvall impressed in limited showings, but will need to find the fitness to stand an entire MLS season, while Costa Rican Roy Miller remains like a cockroach after a nuclear blast. Miller will miss time with the upcoming Gold Cup, which would allow young upstart Ambroise Oyongo to sub in, but, well, we’ll get to that.
One masterstroke by the Red Bulls has been acquiring all of the midfielders in the world to prevent anyone else having any. However, Eric Alexander set the franchise record for most appearances in one calendar year last season as part of a defensive midfield pairing with Dax McCarty that spurred the Red Bulls on to great heights, and that sort of stability won’t be tolerated in these parts, so he and the aforementioned Oyongo were shipped to Montreal for attacking midfielder Felipe Martins. Also acquired in that deal was the number one spot in the allocation order which, to simplify, would likely mean the first crack at signing Sacha Kljestan to round out the 0-10-0 formation. Australian star and 2013 team MVP Tim Cahill fell so far out of favor in 2014 he bounced, and now the rumor mill suggests he won’t be returning for the new campaign once his Asian Cup run concludes. Cahill responded to the rumors by posting a dozen more pictures on Instagram of his days at Everton.
RBNY allegedly made the steal of the SuperDraft in nabbing Leo Stolz, a player theoretically ready to start from day one. Unfortunately, with a player of Stolz’s caliber, the two best case scenarios are that he is all he is cracked up to be and jets off to Europe in three years, or he isn’t all that and he becomes an MLS regular. The hype machine is a cruel, cruel mistress.
Having last year’s Golden Boot winner inked to a new big money contract would appear to indicate that at least the forward position is a go, but one look at the roster indicates that Bradley Wright-Phillips is going to be very lonely at the top of the formation. Currently, the team’s website lists three forwards on the roster: BWP, Peguy Luyindula – who has found himself at home as an attacking midfielder because eleven midfielders simply isn’t enough – and Irelyn Maloney. Maloney will likely have equal trouble finishing crosses as finishing vegetables, as she is a five-year old girl. Yes, as of the opening of training camp, the first option off the bench should the Red Bulls need a goal is a kindergartener, however experts do give her high marks for a decent left foot, knowing all the words to the Frozen soundtrack, and being taller than Connor Lade.
The simplest and easiest path for the new regime to win back any good grace from the fanbase was to construct a team that appeared, at least on paper, to be a contender, and then use that team to go out and win some games at the very outset of the season to cauterize the wound. While parity across Major League Soccer is still readily evident, this doesn’t even appear to be an average MLS team. If firing Mike Petke was bad, how much worse could it get if this team is bad? If there is already a revolt on two months out, what would it be two months in and sitting last?