When the Red Bulls picked up Brandon Barklage this off-season his signing was glazed over a bit. Fans and pundits that were scratching their heads over Connor Lade and Ryan Meara had little attention to pay to a guy who suffered two ACL injuries and whose MLS career seemed to be over after being released by D.C. United.
But Barklage didn't squander what seemed to be his second chance. When the team suffered a rash of injuries Barklage stepped up and forced one of Hans Backe's sacred cows, a Scandinavian player in Jan Gunnar Solli, back into the midfield.
Solli, it seems, challenged an under performing Dane Richards in the midfield. Coupling that with Lade's emergence, and the Juan Agudelo-for-Heath Pearce deal that weakened the team's depth up front, it certainly looks like a guy who seemed like a career reserve player forced out one of the most celebrated players in MetroBulls history.
Now that that's done and Sebastien Le Toux is soon to be in red and white and the Vancouver Whitecaps are looking forward to Richards' speed demonry while counting their new-found allocation money, one question remains: Are the Red Bulls a better team today than they were yesterday?
The answer has to be yes.
Yes, Richards was a fan favorite and yes, the team is slower today than they were yesterday, but the Red Bulls have fixed their depth problem up front while bolstering their midfield, as Le Toux can play there as well.
It's never easy to lose a player like Richards was, but the midfield has been the weak link the chain all season long. Without Thierry Henry dropping back the team has little direction going forward. Even when the Red Bulls dominate possession, like they did last week in the 2-0 loss to the New England Revolution, they couldn't get the ball to Kenny Cooper to finish. Not that it's Richards fault, but it was time for a change. His speed no longer seemed like the asset it was in years passed. His one move, bump the ball passed a defender and out run him, no longer seemed as effective, and when it was it all too often ended in misplaced shots or lousy crosses.
Whether or not Le Toux can do any better is still an open question, but with his versatility, matched with the team's need for bodies up front, and it's hard to argue the team isn't better off with the Frenchman in the mix.
Oh, and the Red Bulls made a deal for LA Galaxy goalkeeper Bill Gaudette yesterday, too. So there's that.