Monday, January 30, 2012

New York Red Bulls Leave for Mexico, Land Conde

Hector Rueda Lookalike Wilman Conde is New York Bound - Finally
The New York Red Bulls, having just wrapped up Tim Ream's long-awaited transfer to Bolton, didn't waste much time in finding his replacement, announcing today the signing of Colombian central defender Wilman Conde. Conde was most recently on the books of Mexican club Atlas, where injuries limited his playing time in 2011 to just 13 games. Prior to that, he had been a mainstay at Chicago Fire for nearly four years, where he earned MLS Best XI honors in 2009 and was widely considered one of the league's stronger defenders.

Red Bulls fans might remember Conde asking out of Chicago in 2008, after RBNY had paid a small ransom to secure the managerial services of Juan Carlos Osorio. Chicago refused to relent to the player's demands, and Conde ended up staying in the Windy City until leaving for Mexico in 2011. With today's announcement, Chicago, who were still in possession of Conde's "rights of first refusal" have received a substantial amount of allocation money from the Red Bulls, estimated to be somewhere between $100,000 and $150,000.

Factoring in Conde's salary, the deal could come close to costing the Red Bulls $500,000, but for a team that is in such desperate need of physicality and experience at the back it's probably a fair price to pay, even for a player coming off of a foot injury. There's no denying Conde's talent. The only question is his health. But if the Red Bulls feel they can get the best out of a very gifted player, it may be a risk worth taking. On paper, a combination of Wilman Conde and Markus Holgersson would seem to be a major improvement over Stephen Keel and the 2011 version of Tim Ream.

The addition of Conde still leaves the Red Bulls with major question marks as they take off for Mexico and the second phase of training camp.

First there's the issue of who will be starting between the sticks for the Red Bulls on March 11 in Dallas. Jeremy Vuolo and rookie Ryan Meara are both under contract, but neither really fits the profile of a #1 goalkeeper, not yet at least. Rumors of a move for Venezuelan national team keeper Renny Vega have been repeatedly shot down by Erik Solér and Hans Backe (and if you saw Vega's putrid performance in the Copa Libertadores against Peñarol you'd probably agree that's not a bad thing). Another keeper reportedly joining the Red Bull on trial in Mexico is the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers Matt Glaeser, but he'd likely be competing for a back-up role at best.

If Solér and Backe have settled on either Meara or Vuolo as their #1 they'll be leaving themselves open to a lot of second guessing and ridicule should it all go wrong again. From the outside, this would appear to be a case of the Red Bulls having no plan B after Frank Rost. Of course, there's still plenty of time between now and Opening Day, but the closer they get to March - and the more international slots that get eaten up by the likes of Conde and Holgersson - the less likely it becomes that a highly experienced keeper will be added.

In midfield, New York seems to be stockpiling defensive midfielders like nobody's business. With Rafa Marquez shifted into a holding role, there at least six other players competing for one central midfield spot: Teemu Tainio, Dax McCarty, Matt Kassel, trialist Victor Pálsson, Mehdi Ballouchy and, potentially, Tobias Grahn, a Swedish midfielder currently with Allsvenskan club Mjāllby who is reportedly on the verge of a move to New York. Each brings slightly different qualities to the table, but eventually something's gotta give. That's simply too much money tied up in one position.

Up front the Red Bulls' issues are fewer. The only real question is whether Luke Rodgers will secure his visa and return to New York for another season. We should have the answer to that question with a few days.

Finally, a few additional notes:
  • WPS has announced that it will shutter its doors for the 2012 season, and with the league goes Sky Blue FC. It seems unlikely that WPS will return in 2013, though that is still being held out as a possibility. Those who want to see the likes of Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan and Hope Solo in action will have to content themselves with the Olympic Soccer tournament, which the U.S. women qualified for on Friday in Vancouver, before blanking Canada 4-0 on Sunday
  • One Red Bulls fan was so touched by the departure of Tim Ream to Bolton that he wrote a song about it. You can listen to his masterpiece here.
  • The Portland Timbers now have more designated players than the Red Bulls, after the signing of former Rangers' striker Kris Boyd.
That's it for now. We'll have more news as training gets underway in Mexico.
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