Tuesday, January 25, 2011

They're Baaaack!! - Red Bulls Roster Takes Shape

If you're like me, it seems like this winter has been absolutely interminable - and we're still about a week away from February. After the disappointing end to last season, Red Bulls fans are eager to get back at it and see if we can finally win that elusive cup. Well, we won't have to wait too much longer.

Today the team held its first training session, at the Superdome sports complex in Waldwick, New Jersey. It was the first chance for the media to speak with RBNY midfield signing Jan Gunnar Solli, meet the recent draftees, check in with Thierry Henry and find out directly from Erik Solėr and Hans Backe what their plans were for the remainder of the preseason.

First, Solli. Michael Lewis of Big Apple Soccer tells us that Solli is a versatile player, capable of slotting in at either central midfield, right midfield or right back. He should provide some competition for Dane Richards, especially now that other midfield options, such as Sinisa Ubiparipovic and Seth Stammler are out of the picture (more on Ubi later). Solli is only 29 and should have several more good years in his legs. Personally, I'm intrigued to see what he can do. Solér found a diamond in the rough when he added Joel Lindpere to the squad last year. Could he have another solid player on his hands with Solli?

Henry returns after what even his most avid fans have to admit was a fairly disappointing debut (half-) season in New York. Beset by niggling injuries and worn out after World Cup and European duties, Henry never showed MLS fans his best, despite a few flashes of brilliance. Now, having worked on his fitness over the past few months, trained with Arsenal and "recharged his batteries," Henry tells the Post's Brian Lewis that he is ready to help bring MLS Cup back to New York, assuming more of the scoring load and helping fans forget the loss of Juan Pablo Angel.

Henry will certainly need to step up his game, because reading the comments of Solér today, there will not be any additional attacking pieces added to the squad before the kick off against Seattle in March. What you see now - minus Luke Rodgers, who has yet to officially sign with the club or join in training - is what you will get on opening day. People hoping for a creative midfield maestro or third designated player may be disappointed, but if you look at the squad that has been assembled, it's still one of the stronger units in the league and is totally capable of competing for - and winning - an MLS Cup if the bounces go their way.

The positions Solér would like to strengthen before March include right back and central defense, or possibly defensive midfield, should they decide to drop Rafa Marquez back alongside Tim Ream.  We'll have to wait and see what names get linked to the club, but the RBNY braintrust did go out of its way today to shoot down a number of previously rumored targets, including Olof Mellberg, Ze Roberto and Panamanian midfielder Armando Cooper. My guess is that the two signings will not be big names, but rather solid squad players. We could also see a keeper added. Philadelphia's Brad Knighton, who was released today, is a player I could see them looking at, either as a replacement for Greg Sutton or as a third option between the pipes.

As for youth additions, today we finally saw the conclusion of the Matt Kassel saga, as the University of Maryland midfielder officially signed a homegrown contract.  Solér has also indicated, in the Post piece linked above, that Boston College defender Sacir Hot is another Red Bull Academy player they are considering adding, if he does not choose to join a European club instead. One defender to watch - this one obtained through the draft - is North Carolina State's Tyler Lassiter, who Backe is already comparing to Tim Ream. High praise indeed. If he lives up to the billing, he will be a tremendous asset, especially since most of our defense could very well be away on international duty at the same time, as Homebrew Tim pointed out to me this morning. (Congrats again on the baby, Tim and Nicole - she is a charmer!)

With all the arrivals, who might leave? Well, Brian Nielsen spent training today with his knee in an ice pack, which doesn't bode well for his fitness. After being out almost all of last season, I question how much longer we'll waste an international slot on the Dane. With plenty of competition up top, Salou Ibrahim is another player who could leave, if there is a European club willing to take him. Finally, Andy Boyens has to wonder if he'll ever get a start again.  It'll be fascinating to see how this all shakes out over the coming weeks as the team gets into full swing and opens training camp in Mexico.

Finally, late yesterday the club cleared up the Sinisa Ubiparipovic situation by announcing that it had decided not to renew his contract at the conclusion of the 2010 season. It's nice to have an answer, but isn't this something that should have been handled more professionally? Fortunately the Twitterverse made a big enough stink about it and we got the information we were looking for, but let's not have this kind of thing happen again, okay? As the fan base grows and information becomes more readily available, it's important that supporters be made aware of basic stuff like this, in a timely manner.

How do you feel about the RBNY squad? Do you think we're still missing that creative spark in midfield, or do we have enough to compete as is? What are you expectations of Henry this season? Where do you think we still need help? Hit us up below and let us know what you think.
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