Earlier this week, when the team introduced trialists Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sebastian Stachnik, Sporting Director Andy Roxburgh noted the team doesn't really have a target for its third designated player.
Frankly, that's surprising. Not that they don't have a target -- there were rumors of strife between New York and the Austrain mothership about what a third designated player should look like -- but that the question about the designated player even needed to be asked in the first place.
See, the Red Bulls signing a third high-priced, probably-near-retirement-but-still-serviceable player was always a foregone conclusion. The Red Bulls have the money, why not use it? But at no point did anyone stop to ask if the Red Bulls should stay pat, sign some smaller pieces and see what happens later.
And here's why they should: Roxburgh, Mike Petke, et al probably won't find what they're looking for.
The Red Bulls' most pressing needs are a wide midfielder and a support striker for Thierry Henry, and that's only if you believe Eric Alexander, Lloyd Sam and Fabian Espindola are more than just out of form.
Aside from Kaka, who doesn't even really fit the bill and who looks kind of, sort of headed to Orlando City (should they get an MLS expansion bid, which doesn't seem farfetched), there isn't a player being bandied about who can step in and make a bit splash. All indications suggest the Red Bulls see the designated player slot to make headlines. If you're not going to be able to do that with the empty slot, why use it at all? Unless they're willing to change their designated player strategy to something more Portland Timbers or Columbus Crew-esque, there's really no reason to spring for a big name.
Since what the Red Bulls are looking for are, essentially, role players, what they lack can be found via trade, free transfer or by paying a small transfer free. There's no reason to throw money around and attempt a summer rebuild -- a la the Backe/Soler regime -- if all you really need is a speedy winger who can hit a cross and someone for Henry to work with up front.
What the Red Bulls do need is a big marketing push. They don't need a star, they need billboards. The "big signing" publicity strategy hasn't worked in the past and if past performance is any indicator of future returns, it won't work this summer, either.
Here's what the Red Bulls should do: Find the role players. They're out there and don't cost millions in salary. Take the money that would be spent on a designated player and launch an aggressive advertising campaign to get people out to the stadium this summer and elevate the stature of the team in the country's most saturated sports market.
The Red Bulls don't need a star, they have those in spades. In the long run, what the Red Bulls need more than anything is relevancy.