After they parted ways with David Carney, Brandon Barklage and Heath Pearce, they've got some pieces to find at fullback.
They brought back Kosuke Kimura on a restructured contract, almost certainly less than the $100,000 he was getting paid in 2013, and are reportedly negotiating with Roy Miller (who's apparently fled the country as a negotiating tactic), but that doesn't satisfy Mike Petke's purported wish for better outside backs.
There's plenty of time for moves to materialize, as the winter transfer window is yet to open and the MLS season officially ended yesterday, but one thing we seem to have overlooked is how the Red Bulls are doing against the cap.
Well, Ives Galarcep, writing at Goal.com, has some insight. Writing in a column last week, he said the Red Bulls were "strapped for cash."
For a team that posted the best regular season record in the league, the Red Bulls sure did have some flaws. Consistent wing play, a true playmaking midfield threat and a reliable forward partner for Thierry Henry were all need areas. Juninho was supposed to be the team's playmaker, but that experiment failed. Fabian Espindola was supposed to replace Kenny Cooper as Henry's preferred strike partner, but he never quite got settled. As for wingers, Lloyd Sam showed some promise and Jonny Steele overachieved playing out of position, but the Red Bulls always felt like a team that needed more consistency on the flanks.
The real question in New York is whether the Red Bulls have the money to make the necessary upgrades on the wings, at forward and at attacking midfielder. Rumblings out of New York suggest the team is strapped for cash and may be limited in the number of moves the club can make. If that is the case, Red Bulls fans hoping for a third designated player to join the team may be sorely disappointed.
Supposing the report is correct, it makes sense that the Red Bulls and Carney couldn't come to terms and why they'd dump Barklage, who was on a modest $65,000 a year base salary. And certainly why they'd walk away from forwards Fabian Espindola and Andre Akpan
As for the players they re-signed, both Eric Alexander and Peguy Luyindula come pretty cheap. And we don't know what Kimura's restructured contract looks like.
We know the Red Bulls have some allocation money to play with -- something like $300,000 -- to buy down some pricier contracts. The implied focus on finding a third designated player somewhere in South or Central America suggests they could find someone to fall under the weird, nameless league subsidy the league has supposedly opened to some teams. So, yeah, it kind of seems that the Red Bulls might have some salary cap issues.
Or, you know, they could just be doing good business.
But the business they did do down the home stretch of last season doesn't seem like it was all that great. Ibrahim Sekagya is pulling in $129,999 base, and he hasn't been great. Bradley Wright-Phillips got paid $50,000 base, but you wonder if that's supposed to grow next year. Not to say Wright-Phillips hasn't played well, but Galarcep's report suggests the Red Bulls might have been spending against a designated player cushion. If its Wright-Phillips against a designated player, who would you take?
So it seems to keep the 2013 Supporters' Shield winning New York Red Bulls intact, it's crunch time for Sporting Director Andy Roxburgh.
To work under the kind of restraints the Red Bulls have, they'll need some priorities, and those priorities appear to be the fullback positions, with the recent moves summarized above. After that, maybe an attacking midfielder, which has been a need for years, then wing help.
But the last two can, if Galarcep is to be believed, with filling the fullback positions on the sort-of-cheap, at least.
So this off-season is something of a litmus test to see how well Roxburgh has learned the league's labyrinth-like roster rules. He seemed to do well with it in his first year in charge. But if he's going to plug the holes and improve the Red Bulls for 2014, he's going to have to prove it.
So the refrain becomes "in Roxburgh we trust."