The New York Red Bulls have gone to Austria for the next phase of their preseason and plenty of questions about the squad remain unanswered as we sit just five weeks away from the start of the MLS season.
I touched on some of the key questions still to be answered in my column in today’s Herald News. Here are some other things to go over:
Matt Kassel has not joined the team in Austria and will not join the team in South Carolina. In order to protect his NCAA eligibility the Red Bulls will not have him travel anywhere with the senior team. That said, Kassel will have a chance to train with the team once it returns to New Jersey for good. I have stated repeatedly that the club won’t be signing Kassel before the start of the season and that isn’t likely to change. That being said, the Red Bulls like what they have seen so far and want to see him train against first-team players to get a sense of whether he is someone they want to sign.
Jesus Mendoza is a quick left-footed player who spent a large part of his career as a forward but has recently moved into a wing midfield role. He has the tools to be a left winger in a 3-5-2 and will be signed if he has a good camp. Mendoza has been in with some other MLS teams but it should be noted that his asking price has made him a less attractive option for some bargain-hunting clubs. From what I have heard Chicago was still interested but Mendoza decided to take his chance in Red Bulls camp.
So why not Marshall Leonard? He struggled to stand out once he got to California and trained with the first team. The speed is there but the technical ability was a question mark. Ultimately it boiled down to Leonard not being big enough to be a left back in a 3-5-2 or skilled enough to be a left winger in a 3-5-2. In a 4-4-2, Leonard was not better at left back than Kevin Goldthwaite, who has had a strong camp.
Dave Van Den Bergh is still with the team. Yes, I have written repeatedly that Van Den Bergh looks to be the odd man out in Red Bull land but there is a scenario in which he stays. If the club can’t find a reasonable offer for him AND if Van Den Bergh is willing to take a sizeable paycut, he could find a place on the team. Van Den Bergh is regarded as one of the best locker room personalities on the team and let’s face it, even though he’s not quick at all he can still cross and pass the ball well. He could become a valuable bench option. The Red Bulls aren’t just going to dump him without at least offering him a chance to stay. Will he stay for less money? Sources tell me he likes the area and just might be convinced to stick around.
Is the right wing slot up for grabs? It just might be. I know you’re thinking, "How can it be when Dane Richards is on the team?" Well, Richards has never been known as a great crosser and his idea of defending is to clumsily run into opponents on the ball. Not exactly good traits for a winger in a 3-5-2. You know who does cross well and defend well? Hunter Freeman does. He’s been getting long looks on the right wing and just might wind up starting there.
What would that do to Richards? If Osorio cannot find a left wing option during this transfer window you could see Richards there. I say why not? He doesn’t really rely on crossing anyway and he could just as easily take defenders on with speed on the left. It isn’t a completely foreign position for Richards, who saw action on the left wing for Jamaica in recent friendlies (and there were several occasions late last season where Richards floated over to the left flank to take people on).
So what might a starting XI look like if the season started today: Here’s one crack at it:
You could also see Oscar Echeverry in the lineup, which would give it a 3-4-3 look with Reyna in Ubiparipovic’s spot.
With Osorio closing in on a playmaker, you will see Reyna drop into the spot held by Ubiparipovic. That would leave left wing and left back as the top priorities for Osorio on the transfer market.
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