Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
By most accounts, the New York Red Bulls have had a dream offseason. They have added a number of veterans with MLS experience, disposed of some big contracts and a malcontent Designated Player, and signed an American to be their head coach.
As much retooling as they have done, the Red Bulls still have a glaring hole as the new season approaches and it is one that needs to be patched soon.
Depth in the midfield is likely currently an area of concern for new head coach Mike Petke and the rest of his coaching staff, as New York currently have a dearth of options there. Projected starters Tim Cahill, Dax McCarty and Juninho might make up one of the more talented midfields in MLS, but there are question marks aplenty when talking about who follows them in the pecking order.
Recent second-round pick Ian Christianson is expected to make the Red Bulls’ roster but more central midfield back-ups will be needed for the grueling MLS season. There are several trialists, including Nicki Patterson and Ruben Izquierdo, and other rookies in camp with the club but none should be considered locks to make the roster, let alone contribute right away.
Things are not looking much better out wide. With Joel Lindpere shipped to the Chicago Fire, the right-footed Lloyd Sam is the only natural outside midfielder the Red Bulls have and there are even questions surrounding his durability after he suffered a pair of injuries during his brief time with the club in 2012.
New York did acquire Ryan Clark and Michael Bustamante in the recent Supplemental Draft, but both are still unsigned and might not be offered contracts unless they prove their worth in the New York’s two preseason camps.
The Red Bulls do have versatile players who could fill in out wide, such as Connor Lade, Roy Miller and recently-acquired Fabian Espindola, but none of them seem like long-term solutions. A case could be made for Lade to see serious time on the outside, but that does not seem likely given Petke’s preference for the youngster.
“Where do I think his best position is? I liked him at outside back,” said Petke of Lade during the MLS Player Combine earlier this month.
That leaves the Red Bulls with a dilemma. With the season fast approaching, the club needs to find some able bodies to bolster their depth or risk entering the season undermanned.
The good news for the Red Bulls is that they still have time to identify some players and try to bring them in prior to their season opener. The bad news is that failing to do so might erase all the success they have enjoyed in other areas this offseason.