The first order of business: the club announced on February 10 that they have signed 20 year old Icelandic midfielder Victor Palsson. He looks to add some depth to the midfield, though in a defensive role already filled by Teemu Tainio and Rafael Marquez. And now, let’s just cut to the chase.
The Red Bulls decided to release developing young players Sacir Hot and Matt Kassel the other week. Not only were the defender and midfielder once touted youngsters, they were also Homegrown Players for New York. Taken by itself, NYRB releasing players isn’t big news. But given the hype that was produced for two local boys who came through the academy system and the seeming failure of the club to properly invest time or energy into their youth players, this story deservedly ballooned into something bigger.
It is the nature of bloggers, especially sports bloggers (and super-especially soccer bloggers), to purport the mundane as earth-shaking. And it is true that much of the uproar that appeared on Metrofanatic and the Facebook pages of Supporters’ Groups was the misdirected release of years of bottled up rage. But there are quite valid gripes to make about the way the club has handled this situation, just the latest in a series of fumbles, and the rationale behind these player releases.
The first player that the Red Bulls signed under the Homegrown Rule was Giorgi Chirgadze on January 14, 2010. If you’re racking your brain trying to remember who he is, don’t bother. He was released by the club without ever seeing a minute in the league. Juan Agudelo, the second HG player signed on June 6, 2010, is much more well known and has sometimes been seen on the bench or even warming up on the sideline. (Here’s an article by Leander Schaerlaeckens on Juan Agudelo’s lack of progress since breaking out onto the scene in 2010). While these two attackers have had very different trajectories, the Red Bulls largely treated them with the same disinterest.
On January 26, 2011 the Red Bulls signed Matt Kassel and five days later signed Sacir Hot each as Homegrown Players. At the time both were highly lauded as promising young players. If you believe that the club did everything they could to develop these hometown boys, then the players just didn’t put in enough work at training to justify their continued place on the roster even though as HG signings, their salaries don’t count against the cap. If you are, however, of the belief that the coaching staff ignored these youngsters while focusing solely on the starting 11 (plus the three subs of Ballouchy, McCarty and Auvray) then you’d probably agree with this assessment by Kristian Dyer on Big Apple Soccer.
On March 31, 2011, the club waived former draft picks Irving Garcia and Conor Chinn. Early during the 2011 season, New York then traded away young players Tony Tchani and Austin da Luz. Fast forward to the end of the season when the team no less than 6 young players (Alex Horwath, Tyler Lassiter, Teddy Schneider, Mike Jones, John Rooney, and Marcos Paullo). Rooney and Paullo made sense because they were raking in large salaries and occupying valuable international slots. But Tyler Lassiter was once heralded as farther along in his development than Tim Ream was at the same age before the start of the 2011 season. And finally on February 17, the club announced they had released Hot and Kassel from the roster (but we’ll return to that in a minute).
This leaves only Juan Agudelo and 2011 draft pick Corey Hertzog as the only players under 27 who have been at the club for a whole season. When you take all these cases into account, what was it say about the way the Red Bulls deals with young players?
This past December, the club announced the signing of fullback Connor Lade as a HG player. The 22 year old was joined a month later by fellow fullback Jonathan Borrajo, which leaves Lade third on the depth chart for either left back or right back. That will translate into reserve appearances and the odd U.S. Open Cup match, neither of which the Red Bulls take seriously. I doubt Lade will start a match this season and would not be surprised to see him waived at the end of the 2012 season or the beginning of the 2013 season.
So, what was the rationale for releasing Hot and Kassel? There is always the argument that the players just did not develop as quick as they were projected to. But when you make this same argument 11 times over two years, that is more indicative of the training program than the player pool. The fine writers over at The Viper’s Nest made what they considered was a foolproof argument that since:
“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.”
If we may pause for a moment to criticize some wonky math, 26 is not well over 25. But what does not make sense is why a team apparently so interested in cutting corners financially to hoard money for the summer would cut two players, who probably aren’t going to see minutes but who don’t count against cap only to turn around and sign a bevy of trialists.
Let’s look at these trialists that Hans Backe is so hot for. 24 year old Jose Angulo is a forward with the Harrisburg City Islanders of the USL-PRO. Jhonny Arteaga is a 25 year old striker most recently with F.C. New York, a former third division club as well. If there is a god, neither of these two attackers would start over Juan Agudelo. If they were added, as Backe has repeatedly said he would like to do, there would be 7 out and out strikers on the squad (Henry, Rodgers, Cooper, Agudelo, Hertzog, and the two trialists) while Dane Richards has shown a decent ability up top; 7.5 strikers. Even in a 4-3-3 system (in which Dane would play as a right winger) having 8 strikers on the books is surprising, especially for a team who advocates a notoriously short bench.
Why release Kassel, only to go out and sign 26 year old Ryan Maduro who hasn’t done much since graduating college 5 years ago and 25 year old D.C. United reject Brandon Barklage? The Red Bulls had in Kassel a young player who didn’t count against the cap who was unlikely to see the field, now Backe wants to sign 2 useless utility midfielders who won’t ever see the field who do count against the cap.
This quote from the head coach just sums up how ill-informed Red Bulls signings are since the acrimonious departure of Richie Williams. “I would like to sign all five, but it depends on the salary cap,’’ said Backe. If you were looking for traffic cones for practice drills, Kassel, Hot and Lade are cheaper options than any of the trialists.
On a positive note, I would be excited if the club signed 18 year old midfielder Leobardo Alvarez (even though he’d have to suffer through the Red Bulls development training) and I would like to see the club resign Giorgi Chirgadze. His departure from the club was officially for personal and family reasons, even though at the time he wasn’t close to breaking through to the first team. Apparently now that he has been training on his own, he has developed more than he did while he was with the team; Kudos to the youth development once again.
The point of this tirade is that much of the displeasure with the current Red Bulls regime is justified. The way Richie Williams is walking Erik Soler and Hans Backe through the draft process in this video simultaneously makes me laugh and adds to the growing black hole in the middle of my chest. But overall, it is clear that the Soler/Backe staff has no idea how to operate within the confines of the MLS. Nothing exemplifies this ignorance and inability to do their job better than having to trade Austin da Luz last minute for an international player slot from D.C. United so they could bring in the ineffectual Frank Rost. In half a season from the swamp-scum, da Luz doubled the total appearances he made for New York since being drafted in 2010, and became an impact winger during D.C.’s unlikely push for the playoffs.