The New York Red Bulls' recently maligned "sources" are back in action, whispering to Empire of Soccer that the club's latest swing of the sledgehammer to those fond memories of 2014 might be coming down on Ambroise Oyongo.
Oyongo is currently just kicking off an Africa Cup of Nations campaign with Cameroon. For that reason alone, it is an odd time to be cobbling together a trade built on any current perception of his value: he is 23, which is young enough that his reputation can survive a bad spell at AFCON (as long as his national team gives him a chance to learn from the experience); if he plays well at an international tournament that traditionally attracts a lot of attention, he'll likely be worth a great deal more than a straight-swap for Felipe Martins.
Martins is the other side of the transaction the Red Bulls are allegedly pondering. He wouldn't be a bad pick-up: he's been a regular starter for Montreal Impact the last three seasons (first player to bank 5,000 minutes in MLS for Montreal, it says here), and a regular contributor of goals and assists in that time.
He's a durable, consistent, creative attacking midfielder. He's only 24, so he's still got plenty of upside. And he was a Marsch-era signing at Montreal, so he knows RBNY's new coach and is familiar with whatever tactical preferences are in store for the new season.
This is standard issue new-coach-reaches-for-former-player-he-knows-he-can-rely-on stuff.
Martins is a good player, perhaps capable of being the long-term #10 the club has been hoping for since Amado Guevara left. He is familiar to the head coach. And he is young enough that it is certainly possible he is not yet at the peak of his ability. There is much to like about Felipe Martins.
Signing Martins would seem to merely add to the traffic jam in central midfield. He can play a wider role, and perhaps that is what Marsch has in mind. Indeed, Martins might have to play wide in order to fit into a team already counting Peguy Luyindula, Leo Stolz, Sean Davis, Dax McCarty, Eric Alexander, (maybe) Tim Cahill, (maybe) Connor Lade.
Any deal for Martins would appear to spell the end of the Sacha Kljestan rumor, especially given the news that Montreal is interested in Oyongo.
Oyongo is an out-and-out wide-man at this stage in his development. He played mostly on the left for RBNY last season. Though billed as a defender on arrival, his enthusiasm for taking the ball forward on the dribble made him seem more effective as a winger than a full back. For Cameroon, he has recently been starting at right back.
Oyongo is only about nine months younger than Martins. One might argue (Montreal probably is) that RBNY would get the better deal: the Brazilian is proven in MLS, and the new coach knows exactly what he can do; Oyongo has had some encouraging performances in a relatively brief stint in the league, and every coach he plays for seems to have a different notion of his best position at the moment.
But Oyongo's versatility means he can play at least three positions: both full back spots and a wide-left midfield role; he would likely be an interesting prospect on the right wing too. He projects as a back-up to Roy Miller at left back at the moment, but an international-class right back should be considered a challenger for Chris Duvall's starting spot right now, and he seems like the most impressive left-wing option the club has on its roster.
His loss would leave holes to fill all over the squad. To trade away a player who brings so much to the roster for one who looks a lot like a nice-to-have in a position already occupied by an appropriate combination of proven ability and up-and-coming talent seems short-sighted.
We don't know, of course, what other trades the club has lined up. Nor do we know whether Oyongo is already a target for a bigger club. He is making a name for himself almost as fast as I can type - he scored his first goal for Cameroon during the writing of this piece.
What a pass by Loe for the goal! Oyongo scores and Cameroon are back in it with five minutes left! 1-1... #AFCON2015— Just Football (@JustFootball) January 20, 2015
Ives Galarcep suggests the entire deal is a smaller part of RBNY's chase for a bigger name.
Seeing some chatter about RBNY-Impact & potential Oyongo-Felipe deal. Sources tell me any IMFC-Oyongo deal would involve top allocation spot— Ives Galarcep (@SoccerByIves) January 20, 2015
That may be the case. But if the club's stated ambition is to develop young players, and be a place where names are made, not bought - trading away the most high-profile prospect on its roster is an odd way to go about that plan.
EDIT: Further evidence in support of the notion the deal is/was at least being considered.