On the morning of Wednesday, August 20, Michael Bustamante, professional soccer player and full-time millennial took to social media to share a little news:
New York Red Bulls are on the cusp of making or breaking their season. Starting August 23, the team will play three games in a week. There are seven matches to get through in September, and a further five upcoming in October. Mike Petke's stated objective is to both make the MLS playoffs and get through to the next round of the CONCACAF Champions League (though if he had to choose - and he may yet have to choose - it seems the playoffs are the priority, based on recent comments).
To achieve both those goals, the team is probably going to need to win around eight or nine of its remaining 15 games (definitely at least two in CCL, and likely five and a couple of draws to scrape into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference). And to win games, you need fit players, of which RBNY was presumed to currently have 28. Now we know there are 27 Red Bulls for Petke to rotate to find the appropriate balance of energy and ability for the task ahead.
Or are there? Absence of evidence might just be evidence of absence in RBNY's case.
The issue here is not Bustamante's injury - that is an occupational hazard, extremely unfortunate for a young player with limited opportunity for minutes on this team, and troubling but not even close to disastrous for RBNY's prospects overall.
Let us not overstate Michael Bustamante's importance to the season's finale: he is a second-year pro who showed some promise in a handful of appearances last year, but has made zero appearances for zero minutes in MLS 2014. His single competitive outing for the team this year was a garbage-time run in the game we all wish we had never seen out in Long Island.
So RBNY has lost its
second (nope - that's been Ibrahim Sekagya this year) third (still no - Eric Alexander has been used in a pinch) fourth-choice (getting warmer - we'll never know for sure) holding midfielder at exactly the time in the season when it was beginning to seem possible it would need to reach that far down the depth chart.
It is a tough break for a guy who might finally have got the time on the field he's doubtless been chasing all season. But if you want a sense of how badly wrong things would have to go for him to get elevated to a starting role, consider just how bad Armando, Richard Eckersley, Kosuke Kimura and Bobby Convey had to be for Chris Duvall, Matt Miazga and Ambroise Oyongo to get their shots this season.
In a short time as a head coach, Mike Petke has demonstrated there are two things he doesn't like: giving Peguy Luyindula a regular start as a central attacking midfielder, and playing the kids. The coach can change his mind, but slowly, and generally only under extreme duress. Bustamante, despite last season's promise, was probably looking at a few more late-game appearances this year at best.
We wish him well and hope he recovers in time to challenge for a bigger role in the 2015 squad.
So the issue is not Michael Bustamante being out. The issue is no one (at least, outside the team) knew he was injured in the first place. Perhaps one of the beat reporters will step forward and point out an article mentioning Bustamante's injury, but - as far as this observer is aware - there has been nary a mention of Bustamante from the team or its cohort of media followers since...well, probably since he contributed a minute to that epic disgrace in Nassau County.
As Dan Covello put it:
At the time of that tweet, we didn't even know for sure Bustamante was injured. He'd published a picture of himself in a hospital setting, referencing "going under" and the "road to recovery". Maybe he was having trouble sleeping and had volunteered for a clinical trial. Perhaps he'd decided to have an unsightly blemish removed. He could have needed an appendectomy or his wisdom teeth out.
No such luck. As Mr. Covello, and doubtless a great many others, correctly surmised, when a professional athlete tweets a picture of himself in a hospital gown, he's most likely got an injury that will affect his work.
The club eventually got around to confirming this: Bustamante busted the ACL in his right knee and is out for the season.
As previously stated, players get injured all the time and it is a misfortune for them and their teams. What is also true - at least in this country - is that professional sports teams are generally pretty good at keeping their fans up to date on who is currently injured or unavailable. Without this transparency, the entire fantasy sports genre couldn't sustain itself. More importantly, perhaps, it allows fans to understand the pressures on their team, and set their expectations accordingly.
But the issue is not so much about what other teams in other sports do or do not report with regard to player health and availability. It is isn't even about how RBNY's level of transparency regarding squad fitness matches up to other teams in MLS. It is simply about the one team this website exists to follow: New York Red Bulls.
An out-of-the-blue press release announcing a player had a successful but season-ending ACL surgery is not good enough. The suspicion that press release was precipitated by Bustamante's tweet (I feel your pain, RBNY PR people - last time I had surgery, I'm pretty sure my phone was taken away when I checked in) is even worse.
Added to the entirely unnecessary confusion about Peguy Luyindula's absence from the team a few weeks back, it speaks to a team which just isn't good at communications.
Peguy Luyindula excused from #RBNY practice. Petke calls it personal reasons, Henry says he's hurt. Hmmm. FWIW, he told me had a toe injury.— Brian Lewis (@NYPost_Lewis) July 15, 2014
For those fans who want to take the club seriously, these episodes are not encouraging: they suggest RBNY is either secretive (and therefore, paranoid - what harm could possibly befall the team by revealing Bustamante was scheduled to have his ACL repaired?) or incompetent (Did you forget the part of fan culture which is about obsessing over the depth chart? Does no one talk to each other?).
Such incidents also raise concerns for the health and safety of some of the other less-mentioned players on the roster. Santiago Castano, Marius Obekop, Eric Stevenson - you guys OK? Someone check in on them, please.
To Michael Bustamante and RBNY club management: get better. Quickly.