The New York Red Bulls didn't just lose a game against NYCFC on July 3, they also lost two of the three center backs we believe to be match fit at the moment. Aurelien Collin and Chris Duvall are suspended for RBNY's next game, Gideon Baah is "day to day" last we heard, Damien Perrinelle is easing back from a serious injury: Ronald Zubar seems to be the only CB definitely available for the weekend's game against Portland Timbers.
Ever the skilled media manager, head coach Jesse Marsch managed to shift attention from defense to attack at the first training session since he was handed a headache by his back line. As reported by Big Apple Soccer, Marsch said:
We’re looking a little bit at some of the attacking positions and maybe to help Brad in certain moments instead of having him bear the load of all the attacking responsibility at that striker position.
That sound you hear is the collective anxiety of 19 MLS front offices, nervously checking to see what isn't nailed down in case RBNY tries to steal it. The last time the Red Bulls needed to make a quick addition to the squad, Ali Curtis robbed Orlando City, snapping up Aurelien Collin in "exchange" for a fourth-round draft pick; per some reports, Curtis even managed to leave OCSC picking up the tab on about half of Collin's salary.
The move briefly revitalized the Red Bulls, with Collin contributing to a run of four consecutive clean-sheet wins. But the team has since slumped back into the dismal form that inspired the move for another senior center back in the first place.
The blame for RBNY's recent run of disappointment and frustration - four winless games spread across MLS and US Open Cup - is in part to do with the fact the team had to squeeze in six matches between June 15 and July 3. Marsch hoped to get through the crowded schedule by rotating his squad. The coach does appear to have developed increasing faith in rookie Alex Muyl, but overall, there hasn't been much to suggest that RBNY really has compelling replacements if any member of the preferred front four - Bradley Wright-Phillips, Lloyd Sam, Mike Grella, and Sacha Kljestan - is tired or out of form.
There are options in the squad, and Marsch has worked hard to build a close-knit unit out of the shell-shocked remnants of the roster he was handed in the aftermath of the abrupt firing of Mike Petke in 2015. Unsurprisingly, Marsch told reporters "we like our group, we like our team, and we feel there is the ability to potentially add to it, but right now my job is to focus on getting the most out of this group and what we have."
Somewhere in the RBNY organization will be the knowledge that Gonzalo Veron - signed in mid-season last year in the hope he would be an elite attacking force this season - has not progressed as hoped. The Argentine attacker had a strong pre-season, developing an encouraging partnership with BWP, but injury made a mess of that progress and the team has found its best form to date without him.
Promising 19-year-old forward Anatole Abang has spent the first half of the year breaking into the Cameroon national team, scoring regularly in limited time in USL (three goals in four appearances), and not doing much of anything for the first team. As pointed out by mlssoccer.com's Matt Doyle, Abang has only fired three shots in his appearances in MLS 2016 to date - and that seems not nearly enough for a player whose primary role at the moment is to come off the bench when the team needs a goal.
When Marsch says his job is to focus on getting the most of what he has in the squad, he's not wrong. Rookie Alex Muyl has broken through to the point where he ought now to be considered a legitimate contender for the starting right wing job, as opposed to an option if Lloyd Sam's legs are heavy. But Designated Player Veron has basically stood still for a year, Abang has gone backwards, Shaun Wright-Phillips hardly ever gets off the bench (he too has had injury problems, in fairness), Brandon Allen has played seven minutes in MLS so far, and Derrick Etienne has yet to make a first team appearance this season. The coach has been given tools to use in attack, and they are mostly broken or still in their original packaging.
But we don't see what happens in training. Marsch is generally upbeat and optimistic in his public statements about his squad, and if he feels he's been dealt a bad hand of attacking options outside his starting core, he isn't saying so. It is true that the team has struggled on both sides of the ball this season; disastrously, it often does so simultaneously. Defensive help has arrived in the form of Collin and the imminent return from long-term injury of Damien Perrinelle; Kemar Lawrence will hopefully be back in training in time for the team's crowded August schedule. There are two open slots on the roster, and it makes sense to explore whether one or both might be filled by attacking help.
Marsch indicated the club is leaving no stone unturned. He is focused on the current squad (the continuing effort to spark Anatole Abang was mentioned); inquiries have been made around the league; there is also scope for another big-name (or at least a more expensive than usual) signing. Marsch did not rule out using RBNY's spare Designated Player slot, as reported by Empire of Soccer:
That’s always a possibility. We have some different resources so we’re trying to act responsibly in this transfer window and have an open mind to a potential big addition.
This will be music to the ears of the rumor mill, which has been trying to connect RBNY to a heavyweight striker for some time now. Miroslav Klose, Oscar Cardozo, and Diego Forlan have all been linked to the club recently. You can see the Red Bulls in that MLS-wants-Mario-Gomez rumor if you really want to look for them.
Bring it on, rumor mill. RBNY is officially in the market for attacking help. Most likely a striker. Your move, rumor-mongers.