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The Curious Case of Brian Nielsen

Brian Nielsen: Salary Cap Leech
Brian Nielsen: Salary Cap Leech

When the New York Red Bulls signed Brian Nielsen from Danish side Vejle Boldklub in April, 2010, it seemed like a promising deal. New York was in dire need of depth and speed on the left wing, and reports out of Denmark seemed to indicate that Nielsen was a talented player - once on the fringes of the Danish national team - who had some issues to work through.Though the structure of the deal - with Red Bull Salzburg loaning the player to their New York sister club for an unspecified time - was unusual, it was seemed like a risk worth taking if Hans Backe could bring the best out of him.

Adding Nielsen, General Manager Erik Solér's thinking must have gone, would allow the team to move Joel Lindpere inside to his favored central midfield spot. As it turned out, fans were only given a brief taste of Nielsen's skills before he disappeared onto the injured reserve list with a mysterious knee ailment, and remained there for the next year and a half. During his stay in New York, Nielsen has made just one league appearance (at home against Philadelphia Union) and one US Open Cup appearance (in the 2010 qualifying round against New England Revolution). Meanwhile, the Red Bulls have been on the hook for $120,000 in annual compensation for a player who has (allegedly) spent more time partying than he has playing. In Major League Soccer that kind of wastefulness is almost unforgivable.

The unusual nature of the Red Bulls' loan deal with Salzburg makes their decision to keep faith with Nielsen difficult to analyze. Do Solér and company think they have a real talent on their hands who has simply been beset by unfortunate injuries, or are they doing their sister club - and parent company - a favor by parking the player in New York for some unknown reason?

Nielsen is hardly the only example of New York wasting valuable salary cap space on unproductuve players. Carl Robinson hardly set foot on the pitch in 2010, yet cost the club $75,000. The Brazilian youngster Marcos Paullo, meanwhile, earned a staggering $82,000 without ever seeing the subs bench in a league match. Between Robinson, Paullo and Nielsen, that's close to $300,000 in wasted cap space - a monumental case of mismanagement.

Taking all of this into account, why would the Red Bulls even contemplate bringing Nielsen back for another season? God knows, but it appears that there is a very real chance that he could be offered a contract extension of six months or longer. Nielsen was included on today's list of RBNY training camp attendees with a big asterisk next to his name, indicating that he is currently out of contract. Counterbalance that with reports in Danish media that point to a six month contract extension and it's hard to know what to believe. One thing is certain: Nielsen's questionable work ethic doesn't seem to have improved over the past several months (apparently they don't have indoor training facilities in Denmark).

Assuming that the Red Bulls have some sort of contract option on the Dane, they'd probably be well advised to pass, unless he knocks everyone's socks off during preseason training in Mexico.