The New York Red Bulls first session of training camp in Orlando, Florida is just a few days old at this point but the team has a couple of familiar faces invited for a trial run at a roster spot: Marius Obekop and Ibrahim Sekagya. Both players have had prior stints with the club, and are at opposite ends of their career. However, both men are trying to latch on with the Red Bulls after having their contract options declined at the end of the 2014 season.
Marius Obekop just turned 20 years of age, and played in only two matches last season and five matches in the 2013 season. He is from Cameroon and is in camp competing for a reserve spot in the midfield. The club has a surplus of players at the central midfield position and is rather thin on the wings, which may allow an opportunity for Obekop to find his way onto the roster after the final cuts are made.
The invitation of Obekop for a look by the new Red Bulls coaching staff might also be seen as a hedge for midfield depth on the wings should Tim Cahill and the club part ways prior to the 2015 season opener, which is now a mere 5 weeks away. In the conference call earlier today regarding the signing of Sacha Kljestan, a reporter asked Red Bulls Sporting Director Ali Curtis about the status of Cahill, and the response from Mr. Curtis was initially that "Today is about Sacha" but when pressed further he stated that Cahill was "on the roster and under contract" with the club.
A Welcome Sight
The sighting of Ibrahim Sekagya is a welcome one for many Red Bulls supporters. The 34 year old central defender is at the tail end of his career, but he provides a veteran presence along the defensive back line for the club, which they sorely lack following the trade of defensive star Jamison Olave to Real Salt Lake in the first couple of weeks of the off season. Sekagya is a solid and serviceable defender, who originally came to New York following the completion of his contract with Red Bull Salzburg in the summer of 2013. He had played for six seasons in Austria, winning three league titles and one league championship in his tenure in Europe.
Sekagya started in 23 matches in the regular season in 2014 for the Red Bulls and was a valuable component to a team which advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. He started all five postseason games and his physically imposing defensive style was difficult for the Red Bulls opposition to solve effectively.
In a similar scenario to Obekop, Sekagya was not offered a contract at the conclusion of the season, which some fans, myself included, were surprised at that development. In my personal view, I think Sekagya is a solid defensive player and he fills a void within the central core of the back line. I believe that his over six foot height is an advantage in central defense especially as other rival teams in the East have obtained taller and bigger strikers or attacking forwards.
The regime change within both the front office and the coaching ranks of the club after the New Year made the decision on Sekagya much more clear to me. The eventual invitation to training camp also made sense because the new regime is going to want to get a long look at him in order to evaluate Sekagya at this stage of his career in order to determine if a role for him on the 2015 squad is feasible.
The end result of these two players and whether they make the final roster which heads north from Florida to open the season remains to be seen. However, I think that in both cases it will come down to a combination of their respective individual performance levels in training camp coupled with any potential roster moves that the front office might make in the next few weeks. I think that a case can be made for either player making this club, particularly Sekagya because he was a regular starter for the Red Bulls last season, regardless of that it is nice to see some familiar faces in the camp amidst all the new faces on the roster.