If there's one thing the Red Bulls haven't relied on this year, it's star power. While teams such as Orlando City, NYCFC, and LA Galaxy have opted to sign big-name players with reputations established in Europe's top leagues (Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Andrea Pirlo, Kaka etc. etc.), RBNY has been content with making somewhat smaller-name signings like Sacha Kljestan and Gonzalo Veron. This is Moneyball-type spending: seeking out the undervalued or simply unknown players whose style of play fits the criteria of a tactical plan the Red Bulls think will win them more games than their rivals.
It has been a successful approach: currently, RBNY is not only one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, but also the whole of MLS. And it is certainly a far cry from the Henry, Cahill, and Marquez signings of old. The days of building a team around the biggest names willing to sign a contract with RBNY are over for the moment. One transfer tactic some MLS teams have increasingly favored is to bring in more out-of-favor-but-not-out-of-their-prime players from the big Euro leagues. Players such as MVP-frontrunner Sebastian Giovinco or LA Galaxy's recently-acquired Giovani dos Santos. Maybe the Red Bulls take a punt on a similar sort of player in the future; arguably, Sacha Kljestan (sliding down the depth chart at Anderlecht before he moved to RBNY) already fits that bill.
However, as we can see with the likes of Villa, Keane, Gerrard, and even Kaka: veterans can still perform exceptionally well in the league. So, what do I propose? I propose that the Red Bulls break with their recently adopted and successful team-building strategy to pursue a high-profile veteran. A very particular high-profile veteran: Wesley Sneijder.
At 31, he is probably at the start of his decline. However, he is still a force for Galatasaray. He's a fantastic passer, is good with both feet, and has set-piece ability, which is something the Red Bulls have lacked since who knows when. At his peak, Sneijder was easily a top-five - potentially even top-three - player in the world.
Ask a football fan on Twitter what the biggest Ballon d'Or snub was and there's a good chance they'll say Sneijder in 2010. They're probably not wrong, as Sneijder helped guide Inter Milan to a Champions League victory and nearly led the Netherlands to their first World Cup win.
Now, why Sneijder? Well, after this season, his contract is up. Of course, he is perhaps Gala's best player. He's also absolutely adored by the fans. His current employer can be expected to try very hard to hang on to him.
There is, of course, more than just economics and availability standing in RBNY's way: the club would have to dismantle what is presently one of MLS's best central midfield trios to accommodate Sneijder. Head coach Jesse Marsch has fashioned Dax McCarty, Felipe and Kljestan into a ball-winning force to be reckoned with in the league this season. New signings like Gonzalo Veron and Shaun Wright-Phillips will probably get their first starts for RBNY out wide, because the core midfield three drives the pressing game that is at the heart of the new tactical philosophy.
So who gets displaced in the midfield if Sneijder comes in? You don't pay a player millions just to have him sit on the bench. For starters, not Dax. He is the captain, and he is seemingly irreplaceable. The effort this guy puts in every game is amazing. Felipe? I had, and still have, my doubts over him. I tweeted my thoughts on the Once A Metro twitter and I got a decent amount of responses. Mostly telling me that I'm wrong. I gotta say, these last few games, Felipe has impressed me. I'm still not sure of his ability going forward (mostly his shooting ability) but he does put in a shift defensively. That leaves Kljestan. I will start off by saying I love Kljestan. He's a good passer, and he has a goal in him. But I really don't think he's suitable for the #10 role. He may fit Marsch's pressing with his defensive ability, but he doesn't have that beautiful final ball that you expect of a #10.
I want a smooth passer, an elite play-maker pulling the strings in the final third - so, in my fantasy dream world where the Red Bulls manage to sign Wesley Sneijder next season, I would remove Kljestan from the team and put Sneijder in behind BWP.
Just to clarify, there is absolutely nothing linking Sneijder with the Red Bulls. Not this season - the MLS transfer window is closed and he is under contract with Galatasaray - and not next season if the current team-building philosophy holds (and RBNY manages to hold on to its core midfield starters). But hey, you never know. It's Friday and the Red Bulls have a bye week, so I dare to dream.