The New York Red Bulls off season has been of the same start-stop nature of the team’s form in 2011. November saw the Red Bulls waive a bunch of dead weight and December saw the team lose its longest tenured player. But in the new year, the Red Bulls office staff sprung into action signing three players and drafting a goalkeeper.
The Red Bulls declined the options on the contracts of Carlos Mendes, Chris Albright and Bouna Coundoul after the 2011 season ended. This meant that they were all eligible for the Re-Entry Draft, in which any MLS team could sign them. Columbus used its pick to select former Rochester Raging Rhino player Carlos Mendes. The departure of Carlos Mendes after seven seasons at New York means that Dane Richards is now the player who has been at the club longest.
Inconsistent backup goalkeeper Greg Sutton was released by the club when Montreal exercised an option to buy the player’s MLS rights after a short loan spell up north.
The Red Bulls signed academy product fullback Connor Lade as a Homegrown Player on December 5th. Lade played on various Red Bulls youth teams and four years at St John’s University. “Signing players from our academy has been one of our ongoing priorities. We believe that Connor can compete on the professional level after having four strong years in college soccer,” said New York General Manager and Sporting Director Erik Soler. “We are thrilled to bring him into our squad and think that he has a bright future ahead of him.” The 22 year old defender is the fifth player signed by the Red Bulls under the Homegrown Player Rule.
On December 13, the club severed its ties with utility midfielder Stephane Auvray. You may remember Auvray, but I wouldn’t blame you if you have no idea who he is, as the player who only clocked 198 minutes for the club. During his mediocre performances, which included only one start, I often thought why the Red Bull front office continue to trade away all of the team’s draft picks. The club picked up Auvray from Sporting Kansas City, where he had fallen completely out of the pecking order, in exchange for a 2013 second round draft pick.
January 5th marked the signing of New Jersey native Jonathan Borrajo. The 24 year old fullback most recently played his game in Norway helping Hamarkameratene achieve promotion to the first division. “We believe that Jonathan is an exciting player who can compete for a spot in our starting lineup,” said Red Bulls General Manager and Sporting Director Erik Soler. “Jonathan was an important part in helping his old team reach promotion to the Norwegian First Division and we are thrilled to be bringing in a young, local product to MLS and back to his hometown club.”
This youtube highlight video from the 2011 season at HamKam makes me hopeful of Borrajo’s pace and ability to play a ball into the box. If Borrajo does make it into the starting 11, then the Red Bulls could play Jan Gunnar Solli in his natural midfield position and reduce Dane Richard’s liability to the team.
Markus Holgersson’s signing was announced the following week on January 12. “Markus is a strong, experienced defender who will bring immediate stability and leadership to our back line,” said Red Bulls General Manager and Sporting Director Erik Soler. “Over the offseason, one of our priorities was to add more physical players and Markus certainly fits that bill. We are excited that he has decided to join New York.” The 26 year old central defender will likely be an improvement over second division player Stephen Keel and a certain lazy disinterested Mexican international over at Red Bull Arena.
And then came draft day. The Red Bulls only had one pick in the draft, in the second round, so I wasn’t expecting much action from the club. But Erik Soler managed to pull a quick one by trading to acquire Kenny Cooper from the Portland Timbers.
“We are ecstatic to bring in Kenny to our squad,” said Red Bulls General Manager and Sporting Director Erik Soler. “He has an impressive track record in MLS and will certainly play a key role in our push to win the MLS Cup this season. Kenny is a forward we have been impressed with for a while. He brings a number of attributes to our squad that we are confident will help him succeed in our system. He is a proven goal scorer in Major League Soccer and he will give us another fantastic option in our attacking game.”
“I am excited to start a new challenge and play for the New York Red Bulls,” Cooper said. “The Red Bulls have built one of the best squads in MLS and play in arguably the best stadium in the country. I cannot wait to get onto the field with my new teammates as I am confident that we can win a MLS Cup.”
Cooper is a target man, standing at 6’3″, and as a center forward would pressure the opposition’s back four. The Timbers used Cooper mainly as an advanced striker in 4-4-2 and 4-1-3-2 formations, but they did line up 7 times in a 4-1-4-1 with Cooper as the lone forward up top. It remains to be seen how Cooper will fit into the Red Bulls team; a 4-3-3 with the big man as the center forward perhaps? More likely though Cooper will be an advanced attacker with Henry playing deeper behind him.
The player drafted by the Red Bulls was New York native and Fordham goalkeeper Ryan Meara. Meara, 21, was impressive during his four years at Fordham and the 6’3″ keeper should develop into a solid backup within a few years. At the very least he’s a cheaper option than keeping either Greg Sutton or Bouna Coundoul would have been.
The off season shifting began by whole-heartedly clearing the brush aside from the club, though arguably not enough of it as Carl Robinson and Mehdi Ballouchy are still on the books. Amid the flurry of deals so far, the management team has failed to bring in a quality playmaker in the center of midfield. This was the glaring hole in the team last winter and this illusive signing remains the top priority if the club is going to be successful in 2012.