Friday, January 20, 2012

New York Red Bulls Still Unsettled as Season Approaches

Agudelo: One Foot Out the Door?
When the New York Red Bulls' disappointing 2011 season drew to a close, both Hans Backe and Erik Solér assured fans that they had identified the team's main weaknesses and would be taking steps over the winter to address them. But with 2012 preseason training camp having opened this week, the RBNY roster is still a work in progress, with question marks hanging over the heads of several players and doubts remaining about key positions and bench depth.

The club's hesitancy in pulling the trigger on player acquisitions may have a lot to do with the pending transfer of Tim Ream to Bolton. Should that deal go through, RBNY management will have a lot more cash to play with - as much as $700,000. Should Ream fail to land a UK work permit, on the other hand, they'll have to operate on a much tighter budget. Since it's unwise to spend money you don't have (a point Hans Backe drove home when he met with media on Thursday at Montclair State University) the transfer train remains stuck in neutral for now.

None of that will stop us from speculating about moves the front office might make, or identifying areas of need. So, with no further ado, here are four key questions remaining for the Red Bulls as the head into the first full week of training camp:
  1. Whither Juan Agudelo? Tim Ream may not be the only young USMNT player on his way out of Harrison. Read the Backe interview linked above and you hardly get the sense that Juan Agudelo staying with the Red Bulls is a slam dunk. The young striker has had a bit of a stormy relationship with Backe, and there may be pressure from the powers that be at MLS and the US Soccer Federation to move Agudelo along to a club that can guarantee him more playing time. There doesn't appear to be any move imminent, but you never know. Of course dealing Agudelo to a European club could backfire spectacularly if Luke Rodgers fails to secure a US work visa or Thierry Henry goes down with a serious injury at Arsenal.
  2. Who's Going to be the Red Bulls' #1 Goalkeeper? Rookie Ryan Meara is currently  the only goalkeeper under contract with the Red Bulls. Rumors on Twitter have returning Yank Jeremy Vuolo also joining RBNY, as did his own Twitter page, until it mysteriously disappeared. But neither Meara nor Vuolo has the kind of experience required to start on Opening Day. The team's decision not to bring back Frank Rost means that they'll have to identify a new target, available at a reasonable price or free of a transfer fee altogether, and negotiate quickly. The one name that keeps coming back in Internet rumors is Renny Vega, the current Venezuelan national team keeper, currently employed as FC Caracas. According to this article from November, Vega has a clause in his contract allowing him to leave Caracas should an offer come in from a foreign club. Whoever the Red Bulls add, they need to do it quickly and find a steady hand.
  3. What is the Defense Going to Look Like? The Red Bulls back line was a mess in 2011. Many assumed that Markus Holgersson, the new central defender signed from Sweden, was being brought in to pair with Ream. But if  Ream leaves the Red Bulls would only have Holgersson, the untested Sacir Hot and newly re-signed Stephen Keel as central defenders. Rumors of a deal with Chicago on Wilman Conde's rights have been flying around (in fact, in some places it has been presented as a fait accompli) but nothing has been finalized or announced yet.
  4. Where's the Depth? Factoring in the likely Ream departure and this afternoon's announcement that Carl Robinson would be leaving New York to pursue a coaching opportunity in Vancouver, the Red Bulls are down to a mere 20 players under contract, far below the league maximum of 30. Even assuming that RBNY adds Vuolo, signs Conde, re-signs Brian Nielsen and adds all three of its Supplemental Draft selections to its roster (by no means guaranteed), that still leaves them short of what would be required to get through 2012. And that's assuming that Agudelo stays and no other current squad members leave. Players like former FCNY standout Jhonny Arteaga might have an excellent chance of making the squad, as things stand now.
There's still quite a bit of time left to work through these issues, but the longer the club lets transfer season drag out the less time they have to prepare for a very challenging season.

A few other notes on this soon-to-be-snowy Friday:
  • If you haven't done so yet, give the latest edition of Seeing Red! a listen. Mark and Dave have a great interview with the Red Bulls' President of Business Operations, Chris Heck. They talk about season ticket sales, marketing for the upcoming season, the schedule, continued rumors of a second New York team, and the ongoing tax dispute with Harrison. It's a must for all Red Bulls fans.
  • Speaking of the Harrison/RBNY tax dispute (which appears to be getting uglier by the day), check out this article. The last paragraph in particular is intriguing, as it would seem to suggest that there is a decent likelihood of the New Jersey tax judge's recent ruling being overturned on appeal. It also drives home the point that the Red Bulls' deal with Harrison isn't very different from other sports teams around the country. A defeat for Red Bull in the courts could set a precendent that would have both local and national ramifications.
  • Finally, if this ticket site is any indication, the Red Bulls will once again be playing in a pre-season "Reto Del Sol" match in Arizona against a Mexican league opponent, this time UNAM Pumas. Why this has been plastered all over Red Bull's corporate site but not even mentioned on the club site is anyone's guess.
That's all for now. Have a great weekend!
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