Two things stick out from last Friday night's game against Toronto FC:
1) Peguy Luyindula's goal started with Thierry Henry spraying a pass wide to Ambrosie Oyongo -- making his first MLS start -- who hit a cross Luyindula headed home.
2) At one point during the game Jermain Defoe was one-on-one against 18-year-old Matt Miazga. The teenage center back defended with his life, eventually dispossessing Defoe and clearing the ball up field.
Oyongo got the nod over Kosuke Kimura and Bobby Convey, while Miazga slotted in next to Jamison Olave over Armando. Neither were supposed to be starters, but with the Red Bulls floundering, there's a youth movement afoot at Red Bull Arena.
And it's paid off. The Red Bulls back line looked fine against Toronto, if not a marked improvement over previous incarnations, where "porous" wouldn't be an inaccurate description.
Which, great for the scouting department and the Red Bulls academy. Oyongo was a virtual unknown when he trialed this winter and Miazga is an academy graduate.
But the youth movement hits out against the Red Bulls' year-long defensive overhaul and the off-season strategy of adding veteran MLS players to bolster depth. Convey and Richard Eckersley were both came over from Toronto FC, and are playing like it. Ibrahim Sekagya has been alright as a depth choice, but not much else. Armando, aside from some early season positives, hasn't paired well with Olave. Add Kimura in the mix and you've got five players whose salaries outstrip performance by a wide margin.
Those players, in total, earn $807,500 in base salary. The MLS salary cap is $3.1 million.
It'd be easy to say that Andy Roxburgh and company are spending more than a quarter of the salary cap on five players who aren't quite up to snuff, but it isn't that easy. Accounting for allocation money -- which doesn't get disclosed -- it's likely less than that. Regardless, let's call a spade a spade: The Red Bulls are wasting a lot of cap space on the bench.
In the interests of fairness, let's give those five their due. Convey can play both left back and left midfield, Kimura can play either fullback position and is well-liked in the locker room. Sekagya is important because he can fill in as a defensive midfielder and with Dax McCarty's injury, the Red Bulls are fresh out of those, in addition to center back duties. Armando has actually been a serviceable MLS player and has shown some promise.
But MLS is a league where cost-benefit analyses rule personnel decisions unlike any other. There's no burying a player in the reserves or loaning him out to semi-professional East Bumblefuck FC in the 8th division. Whether Convey is worth $137,500, Kimura $105,000, Sekagya $190,000 or Armando $120,000 is in the eye of the beholder, and arguments can be made for each one of them.
But that's a tough task with Eckersley. The English defender comes with a $255,000 price tag and has only played 314 minutes this season. That's $812.10 per minute, good for $48,726.11 per hour. In the roughly five and a half hours he's played this season, Richard Eckersley makes more in an hour than the average 2013 college graduate does.
To make matters worse, all five of those players can be deployed defensively and the Red Bulls have the most goals allowed of any current playoff team (24), save FC Dallas (28).
On the flip side, Miazga and Oyongo are earning $65,000 and $36,500 respectively, less together than every player on that list.
If there's a silver lining to all this, it's that the Red Bulls will likely have the majority of that $807,500 to spend this off-season, plus whatever increases might come with a new CBA. But until then, the Red Bulls will be a bit handicapped.