Friday, February 17, 2012

Red Bulls Cut the Cord With Kassel and Hot

Of These Three, Only Hertzog Remains
In what can only be considered a surprising move, the New York Red Bulls announced today that they have waived homegrown signings Matt Kassel and Sacir Hot. Both players had been signed by RBNY in 2011, though only Kassel managed to get a handful of first team minutes during the course of the regular season. Hot had been used in a substitute role during friendly games this year in Mexico, while Kassel had been shifted back from midfield to defense, perhaps in an effort to find a position that fit - and where the Red Bulls were not already stacked.

According to team's statement, both players had expressed a desire to get first team minutes, and that was clearly unlikely to happen in New York, with players such as Wilman Conde, Markus Holgersson and Stephen Keel blocking Hot's way, while Victor Pálsson, Rafa Marquez and Teemu Tainio were all likely to be selected before Kassel. Some might ask why the Red Bulls didn't simply trade the players away, loan them to a lower division club, or keep them as depth, especially considering the fact that slots 21-30 on an MLS roster are considered  "off budget" and thus not counted against the salary cap. Let's address these one by one:
  • Though the Red Bulls have been notoriously uninterested in the MLS SuperDraft in recent years, one would still have to assume that getting even a conditional selection in return for Kassel or Hot would have been welcome. We'll have to assume, therefore, that no MLS club was willing to part with anything of value for either of two untested players.
  • Loaning Kassel and Hot to a lower division club may have allowed New York to remove some salary from their books, but would it have done anything to further Hot and Kassel's development as professional players? Remember, Hot has been part of USMNT U20 squads, and the further down the American soccer pyramid he slips the less likely he is to be selected by the powers that be.
  • Similarly, keeping Hot and Kassel on the squad simply for the sake of filling up slots would not have done much good, either for the players or for RBNY. Clubs are entitled to a $35,000 allocation for each unused 25-30 slot on their roster, and that additional money may have been hard to resist for the Red Bulls. As it stands now, they have 21 players under contract, with an additional five to six trialists that they have stated they would like to sign. The addition of the likes of Angulo, Arteaga, Chirgadze, Maduro and a third goalkeeper would put RBNY well over 25 names under contract. With a summer DP signing a real possibility, there may be a strong incentive to hoard as much allocation cash as possible.
It's sad to see two young players released, especially two who had not really been given much of a chance of first team football. But such is the case all over the world. A homegrown contract is a guarantee of nothing but promise. Most academy players, like most college players, are unlikely to make it as professionals. Perhaps Hot and Kassel will club situations that will better fit their abilities, and where they stand a better chance of thriving. We can only hope that neither comes back to victimize the Red Bulls, but with the club's track record in such things you'd hardly be surprised if they did.

In other Red Bulls news, the Luis Robles transfer appears to have come to a screeching halt. The Washington Post's Steven Goff reported on Thursday that goalkeeper Robles, who had been with German second division side Karlsruhe, would in fact be subject to the returning player allocation process, due to the single USMNT cap he picked up three years ago in a 2-2 draw against Haiti. This epic flip flop by MLS comes just a day after's own Simon Borg stated confidently that Robles would be clear to sign with the Red Bulls:

The MLS league office confirmed that Robles could be acquired by an MLS club as a “discovery” signing. The fact that the ‘keeper is not a US youth international and is not currently in the US national team player pool means the allocation and lottery mechanisms would not apply in his case.
It's easy enough to read between the lines here. MLS gave the Red Bulls the all clear and then retreated under pressure from one or more teams. On one hand, MLS is being consistent here by strictly interpreting its allocation process. On the other hand, a returning American player is being denied an opportunity to ply his trade in MLS because of an idiotic rule that probably should have been abolished years ago.

For the Red Bulls, all it means is that they will have to rely on one of two relatively untested goalkeepers - Ryan Meara and Jeremy Vuolo - to get the job done this season. Considering Robles' recent struggles in Europe, New York may have ended up dodging a bullet here after all, but we'll never really know. The allocation rule is one of those relics that make the league look ridiculous in many fans' eyes. It might make sense for players with ten or more senior caps under their belt, but for a fringe player like Robles, it's just an excuse for one team to try to extort cash or a draft pick from another.

Finally, the Michael Ballack to New York rumor seems to be making a comeback this week. Until Ballack actually signs a contract with RBNY, we'll continue to be skeptical about this one. In terms of both age and abilities, he doesn't fit the profile that Hans Backe and Erik Solér have said they are looking for in their third designated player. Let's hope this is all noise and nothing more.

That's it for now. Enjoy your weekend!

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