Well, the Ronaldinho-to-the-Red Bulls is dead, killed over the weekend by Kristian Dyer at Big Apple Soccer and Empire of Soccer's Dave Martinez, both of whom had reports killing the formerly persistent rumor.
If that wasn't enough to make the defensive, prickly portions of the team's fan base even more defensive and prickly, a discussion started last night on Twitter by Taylor Twellman that the New York Red Bulls had discovery rights on David Villa, who inked a deal to be NYCFC's first player in early June, would do just that (what, exactly, happened is a discussion for another post).
If the cries of "small club, small club" weren't bad enough when people believed a designated player with a big name and European pedigree would somehow solve the team's tactical issues and porous defense, it's only going to get worse from here.
But the Red Bulls have an opportunity here that would put them in great position going forward, should they take it. With a new TV deal signed and CBA negotiations coming up, they'll have a significant chunk of cap space to work with, even more if they shed the $800,000-plus tied up in bad players. They'll most likely have a USL reserve team and they'll still have one of the best academies in the country. Not to mention, at least two designated player slots they could fill if Thierry Henry chooses to hang it up come season's end.
The conditions are right for Head Coach Mike Petke and Sporting Director Andy Roxburgh to put their heads together and plot a course for the team going forward. The two can build around a core that includes Dax McCarty, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Tim Cahill, Ambroise Oyongo, Roy Miller, Chris Duvall and Lloyd Sam (assuming, again, Henry retires), rebuild the defense and retool the central midfield.
They can do it through the academy, which produced this year's U23 national champions and last year's U18 national champions. They can do it through the draft, which got the Red Bulls players like Duvall, Ryan Meara and Tim Ream in the past. They can do it with shrewd signings from abroad and at home, a strategy that got them players like Eric Alexander and Jonny Steele, both of whom, while inconsistent, contributed, or Oyongo, who played for the little-known Cotonsport FC before joining the Red Bulls and is on the league minimum. And they can do it by finding the right designated player(s), either Portland Timbers-style by finding a player and bringing him in on a loan-to-buy deal, or in the classic "find an older guy in Europe and throw money at him" style.
It doesn't matter if the Red Bulls aren't going to be throwing the money around -- ignoring the fact they've only ever spent money on signing a designated player once (Cahill), and that the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC, two teams who truly "splashed the cash," did so with help from the league -- plenty of MLS teams have had success without heaping money on one or two players.
The "stop thinking small, we need stars" argument is simply this: Fans acting like bratty children, demanding since the other kid down the block got a shiny, new $8 million (supposedly) toy that we should have one, too, and we need it right this instant.
It hits at the id of so many Red Bulls fans: The primal fear that they root for an irrelevant team with irrelevant players playing an irrelevant sport. NYCFC, Lampard and David Villa are those fears made manifest, the very vehicle that will make the team irrelevant and the players look bad.
But at the end of the day they're just a team of soccer players that play in a baseball stadium for Manchester City's high-priced farm team. See, there are things that can strike the id of NYCFC fans, too.
Fans give into these fears, get defensive, upset and jump to conclusions, even though there's an obvious and clear cut path, should the Red Bulls' brain trust choose to take it. It's one that isn't dependent on accumulating the most toys. It's one that could work long term.
And if Austria is pulling up the ladder financially, something the Red Bulls brass swears isn't happening, we can take them to task then.
Until that point, though, the soccer guys can focus on mapping a way forward.