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MLS Is Back Tournament a “Wake Up Call” for New York Red Bulls

New York Red Bulls
New York Red Bulls huddling before their match | Photo by New York Red Bulls | August 20, 2020

MLS fans familiar with New York struggles last season knew that this Red Bulls roster, as currently constructed, had some glaring holes in it. During the offseason, the team lost its leading goal scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips, team captain Luis Robles and defensive stalwarts Kemar Lawrence and Michael Murillo. New York did very little to replace these key figures on the transfer market, so many believed the writing was on the wall going into the 2020 season.

However, after an early exit in the MLS is Back tournament last week, those holes are beginning to look more like craters. After winning their opening match of the tournament against a struggling Atlanta United side, the Red Bulls were shutout in back-to-back matches, 2-0 defeats to both the Columbus Crew and FC Cincinnati. The Columbus loss was palatable, as most pundits have tabbed the Crew as one of the favorites to win the entire tournament. But New York’s loss to FC Cincinnati – the worst team in MLS last season – was utterly embarrassing, inexcusable, and should be seen as a wake up to call to the powers that be within the Red Bulls organization.

New York is a team built to high press, effectively running their opposition into the ground and forcing them into critical mistakes in their own defensive third. That’s when players like Alejandro “Kaku” Romero and Daniel Royer capitalize, making teams pay for those mistakes on the counter-attack. However, neither of them has really shown the ability to create on the front foot and break teams down on a consistent basis. Nobody on this team has, and therein lies the problem for Chris Armas’ side.

New York finished the match with 68% possession, a statistic you rarely see in the Red Bulls favor. Unfortunately, all that possession led to a bunch of failed crosses into the box and half-chances in front of the goal. Credit to FC Cincinnati for exposing New York’s major flaws, a lack of creativity in the midfield, and no true goal scorers upfront.

The club currently has two open Designated Player slots on their roster but has not been linked with anyone of note, frustrating Red Bulls fans to no end. Everyone that follows this club knows what the problems are. Well, everyone except for the people who are actually in charge of making roster decisions.

Florian Valot of New York Red Bulls after the match against Columbus Crew | Photo by New York Red Bulls | July 16, 2020

For one reason or another, the Red Bulls organization refuses to spend the money necessary to make this club an MLS Cup contender. Instead of going out and getting difference-makers like Rodolfo Pizarro (Inter Miami), Javier Hernandez (LA Galaxy), Victor Wanyama (Montreal) or Alan Pulido (Sporting KC), New York is constantly linked with bargain-bin players who, if they make good, could ultimately be sold on for a profit in the future.

But what good is making a profit on transfers if you never reinvest that money into the team?

New York reportedly received around three-million dollars from RB Leipzig for the sale of Tyler Adams. The club also received roughly two-million dollars in fees from Anderlecht for both Michael Murillo & Kemar Lawrence’s services. Red Bulls Sporting Director Denis Hamlet vowed to reallocate that money and use it to improve their roster going forward. However, that does not seem to be happening at the moment.

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So what is New York doing with all this cash? The answer is absolutely nothing.

The Red Bulls were reportedly nearing a $1.5 million transfer last month for Brentford’s out of favor midfielder Dru Yearwood. Yearwood is only 20-years-old and had shown flashes of prominence when playing for Brentford in League One. However, he has struggled to get consistent minutes since the club’s promotion into the EFL Championship, only playing in five matches this season.

Red Bulls have also been linked with Premier League academy rejects Veron Parkes (West Ham) & George Tanner (Manchester United) who are both looking for moves away from their boyhood clubs in search of first-team minutes.

From a fan’s perspective, none of these purchases really move the needle, as they are perceived to be long-term investments rather than immediate contributors to the first team.

New York Red Bulls

Jason Pendant making his debut for New York Red Bulls | Photo by New York Red Bulls | July 11, 2020

On the rare occasion that New York does identify a worthwhile transfer target – ie. Ivan Toney (Peterborough United) & Leonardo da Silva Lopes (Hull City) – the negotiations usually stall because New York has offered considerably less than market value for the player’s services.

Toney is a 24-year-old forward who has been lighting up League One, tallying 49 goals and 15 assists over the past two seasons in England’s third division. Toney has received interest from clubs like Celtic FC, Bournemouth & West Brom, which means his talent level is on par with, if not above MLS standards. However, New York’s four-million dollar bid (plus add-ons) in June was quickly rejected, with Peterborough United reportedly valuing the player between $10-15 million. RBNY conspiracy theorists believe this bid was merely window dressing to appease fans, rather than a legitimate pursuit.

The same could be said for New York’s $1.75 million dollar offer for Leonardo da Silva Lopes back in January. To date, New York has had two bids rejected for the 21-year-old midfielder. Hull City have reportedly received interest from Premier League clubs like Everton and Norwich City, and are sure to make four to five times that amount if they do decide to sell the talented Portuguese youth international.

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New York Red Bulls

New York Red Bulls celebrating after a score against Atlanta United | Photo by New York Red Bulls | July 11, 2020

Hopefully, being eliminated from yet another MLS tournament will give this organization the major kick in the behind it so desperately needs. This type of mediocrity is hard to stomach and will not be tolerated by RBNY fans for much longer. A team as successful as New York, with such a deep-rooted history, should not be content with essentially becoming a feeder club for Red Bulls’ various European outfits.

Continuing to do so will ultimately alienate a rabid fan base that is already on the brink of a full-on revolt.

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