"Tentative agreements" can be fickle things, especially when you go to the press - the New York Post, no less - talking about them.
But that's exactly what GM Erik Soler few weeks ago, alerting the Post's Brian Lewis to said agreements with "two young Americans, and maybe a third." Earlier in December, Soler said adding young Americans with international experience was a top priority. This week, Soler said he's in talks with a few possible designated players who would come over either now or over the summer.
So, assuming Soler is telling the truth, and since we're in the last leg of the MLS off-seaon's doldrums (they just released the schedule!) some speculation is in order.
First, a few caveats. First, because of nationality, Backe and Soler seem to rely heavily on their Scandinavian ties to find players, so if this list seems skewed towards Americans playing in Scandinavia, that's why. Second, it's going to be assumed that since the signings of Jonathan Borrajo and Markus Holgersson and the trade for Kenny Cooper that the defense and forward positions are shored up, so the list is going to be comprised, mostly, of goalkeepers and midfielders. Third, Yanks Abroad has compiled a nice list of, well, Yanks abroad, so the names are going to come off that along with the U.S. U-20 and USMNT player pools. Lastly, this list is defining "young" as younger than 23, since last season's designated player rules offer intensives to sign players younger than 23. The list isn't all U-23's though, but before I'm told 24 isn't old, that's the metric.
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Position/Club: MD, Stabaek, Eliteserian (Norway)
Highlights: Yanks Abroad (Short clip in a mix ~10 seconds)
Outlook: You might remember the 21-year-old Diskerud since it was his set-up that propelled the then-17 Juan Agudelo into stardom with the USMNT against South Africa in 2010. Diskerud was eligible to play for either Norway or the United States, but picked the U.S. before the 2009 U-20 World Cup. Looking at his stats, despite his nice highlights, he doesn't score too often.
He also was invited the the U.S. U-23 camp ahead of the London Olympics.
Likelihood: Putting Diskerud in a Red Bulls jersey is jumping the gun, but wagering the chances are pretty good isn't. He's a midfielder, and the Red Bulls need midfielders. He's American, or at least in FIFA citizenship he is and he's got international experience. He's Scandinavian, and the Soler-Backe tag team love Scandinavians. On top of that, he's certainly got potential.
Position/Club: MD, Molde, Eliteserian (Norway)
Highlights: Josh Gatt: The Warm Up (4:27)
Outlook: The blindly fast 20-year-old has been playing in Europe since he graduated high school, first in Austria before being picked up by his current club, coached by former Manchester United super sub Ole Gunnar Solksjaer. He doesn't always play the full 90, but he does score at a respectable clip. He's played for the US U-18 team and according to his Yanks Abroad profile "he's a serious contender for the final U-20 squad."
Likelihood: Gatt is a winger, which the Red Bulls are pretty set at what with Joel Lindpere and Dane Richards, but adding the 20-year-old could be a good move, especially if Lindpere needs to move to the central midfield - assuming he sticks around. All in all adding Gatt would be a good move for both the present and future of the team, with Lindpere and Richards nearing the end of their careers.
Position/Club: MD, Rangers, SPL (Scotland)
Highlights: Alejandro Bedoya (2:22)
Outlook: At 24, Bedoya is a little older than the other guys mentioned on this list so far, but he's the same age as the outgoing Tim Ream. He's earned a few caps for the senior team, but currently plays sparingly, if at all, for Rangers. He also played professionally in Sweden, which puts him right in Soler and Backe's wheelhouse.
Likelihood: Getting Bedoya over to New York might be a bit harder than Gatt or Diskerud, as Rangers are probably going to be asking for more in transfer fees than any of the aforementioned Norwegian teams, but counting him out totally would be a mistake. In order to get back into the USMNT mix Bedoya needs to play, and despite Jurgen Klinsmann's affinity toward European-based Americans, Bedoya, if he plays well enough, could force his way back onto the roster. The one snag could be Bedoya's age. He's one year too old to qualify for last season's new DP rule.
Position/Club: MD, Mainz 05, Bundesliga (Germany)
Outlook: The 21-year-old Texan isn't too high on anyone's radar as a reserve player for Bundesliga side Mainz 05, but he earned a call up to U.S. U-23 camp and has played for the U-17 and U-20 teams.
Likelihood: Unless it's a depth or developmental move, one wouldn't expect to see Jeffrey in a Red Bulls jersey next season. It's still a possibility, though, especially since the Red Bulls need players.
Position/Club: MD, West Ham United, Football Championship (England)
Outlook: Lletget is 19, but he's been training with West Ham since he was 17. The club, reportedly sniffed him out when he was just a 13-year-old playing in Northern California. He's played for the U-17 team and recently earned a call to U-23 camp.
Likelihood: Lletget is in the same boat as Jeffrey, he'd be a depth or developmental move. Lletget is largely too young to come over and make an immediate impact. And with Backe's substitution habits, you'd imagine Lletget would be hesitant to make the move himself.
Position/Club: GK, Celtic (on loan to Greenock Morton), SPL/Scottish First Division (Scotland)
Outlook: Cervi just barely qualifies as "young" at 25, at least compared to the rest of the list, but the Red Bulls need goalkeeping and the 6'6" Cervi might just be the guy. He's been with Celtic since 2008 after rejecting an offer from MLS. His stint there has seen him on his current loan and on loan to Dundee United. Internationally, he was on the squad that took on South Africa long with Diskerud and Agudelo and has been around the national team, despite never earning a cap. He did, however, play with the U-23 team in CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying.
Likelihood: Medium, if "medium likelihood" is a thing. Cervi seems like the kind of player who's always been on the cusp of good things, but has just never quite got there. The Red Bulls could make a move for Cervi, either making him compete for the starting job or as Frank Rost's understudy for what is more than likely going to be his last year (if he comes back, that is). Plus, the Red Bulls don't seem to hot about the draft, which might not be a good thing for draft pick Ryan Meara, but might mean Cervi slots in as the starter or right behind Frank Rost. The one hang up could be his salary. Like many young Americans abroad, Cervi rejected the offer MLS made him after he was drafted.
Position/Club: DF, Viborg FF, Danish Second Division
Outlook: With the likelihood of Tim Ream leaving increasing by the minute, the Red Bulls could certainly use some help in the central defense. Ogunbiyi, profiled here, makes the list since it's looking increasingly likely Ream is making the jump to England. Soler seems to understand physicality is a big part of MLS soccer and if Ream leaves, Ogunbiyi might be a solid replacement. Plus, he's reportedly good on set pieces, which will help on the offensive end, too.
Likelihood: Decent. If Ream goes abroad, bringing Ogunbiyi on really shores up the Bulls' centerback situation. The only issue, like Cervi, is money. Ogunbiyi turned down a deal with MLS when the Red Bulls drafted him because the offer was, in his eyes, too low.
Position/Club: MD, Anderlecht, Pro League (Belgium)
Highlights: Yanks Abroad (short clip in a mix ~20 seconds)
Outlook: Kljestan is another player on this list you struggle to call "young" at 26 and he'd likely have to come over as a designated player, but if the money's right, he might be willing to come back to MLS after leaving Chivas USA for Anderliecht in 2010. He plays in the central midfield and, like Soler wants, has the ability to go forward. He's got international experience with the first team, too, so he fits the "with international experience" bill Soler talked about.
Likelihood: Not as good as you'd hope. Kljestan made the move to Europe just a few years ago and starts regularly. While playing with top-of-the-table Anderlecht he has a chance to go to the Champions League. But, the Red Bulls could, theoretically, offer Kljestan a fat designated player contract to entice him back to this side of the Atlantic. Whether that happens or not, remains to be seen.
Position/Club: MD, Bolton, Premier League (England)
Highlights: Stuart Holden - rising start for Bolton Wanderers (2:38)
Outlook: Like Kljestan, he's 26, but with Bolton looking like they're headed to the Championship next season, seeing Holden making a move during the summer isn't completely out of the question. On top of that, Holden's Premier League career has been pocked with injuries, first with Sunderland before a stint with the Houston Dynamo then with Bolton, where he's been sidelined with a knee injury since March. He's earned 17 caps with the USMNT.
Likelihood: While DP money might be needed to bring him over, it's not a longshot. Any teams willing to invest serious money in Holden are going to be questioning how well his body will hold up, which makes a return to MLS not improbable. But, again, this move most likely would happen over the summer, if it happens at all. If the expected deals, with young, American midfielders fall though, Holden could be a possibility.
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So nine possible guys to fit two, maybe three, maybe four spots. This list could be (is) totally full of crap, or it could be on to something (probably not). Who knows. Soler's definition of "young" and "international experience" could be wildly different. Or he could be, and probably is, privy to the availability of players we lay people know nothing about. There's also the possibility, however slim, that one of the players could come from within MLS.
But it's fun to speculate. And in the coming weeks we'll see just how (in)accurate the list will be. But at least it's a somewhat educated guess using the criteria Soler himself gave. And these days when the season is closing quickly and the silly season is just kicking off, its the best we could do.