Jesse Marsch confirmed that the New York Red Bulls are in the market for attacking help for Bradley Wright-Phillips, who currently shoulders almost the entire goal scoring burden for the team. The manager hopes to get his attacking quartet singing in unison again, after a half-season that has seen it slump into discordant cacophony too often.
Now, with Lloyd Sam being traded to DC for "an undisclosed amount of allocation money", the Red Bulls seem to be primed for a new signing.
Sam’s productivity has fallen off this season, which is arguably more symptom than cause of RBNY's attacking struggles. Wright-Phillips has seemed to drift in and out of games, which is understandable. No team should lean on one player to score just about all of the goals. It’s no coincidence that the Red Bulls win much more often than not when Mike Grella scores: the system is supposed to be about sharing attacking responsibilities, not channeling them to BWP. For a variety of reasons, the core four who drove RBNY's attack last season aren't as effective collectively this year. The team could have persisted, but it clearly decided it was time for a change.
Will Sam be replaced by a striker? The only problem with bringing along another striker is Marsch’s propensity to play with one forward, thus it’s difficult to figure out what to do with another striker. Obviously Wright-Phillips is going nowhere and will be on the team sheet just about every match. Just ask Anatole Abang what it’s like to be a registered striker for the Red Bulls who doesn’t have a hyphenated last name.
We try to take that into consideration here, but at this point, the wing play has been impotent and there are plenty of options in the squad anyway. With that being the case, why not make the new signing one who could contribute to a very different set-up. The Red Bulls could conceivably play two strikers while keeping Sacha Kljestan in his optimal no. 10 role as well as playing high pressure by eliminating the traditional wingers for some matches.
A 4-4-2 tight diamond is what I’m talkin’ about. On paper, it has the potential to solve a few problems while keeping the identity of the team the same. This allows all of BWP, Kljestan and Dax McCarty in their preferred roles. Felipe stays in the midfield, slightly ahead of McCarty and Sean Davis slides in next to him, a player that this website has been vocal in promoting as ready for a start. Then a mystery striker joins Wright-Phillips up top. Everybody wins, right? No wings, press hard, win the midfield, use the full backs for width.
So as we pitch these potential strikers that the Red Bulls could chase, keep that in mind. It doesn’t have to be instead of Wright-Phillips, though it will be helpful to give him a few rests here and there. Just different options.
Looking down the glamorous lists of free agents around the globe, there are some players that New York could look to persuade into swapping Europe for the MLS. Let’s check ‘em out.
(Bonus: Nicklas Bendtner is still without a club. Just saying.)
5. Derrick Etienne and Anatole Abang
Does this count?
The Red Bulls wouldn’t have to sign them like the others on this list but maybe the Red Bulls need not look further than inside their own house to find adequate help up front.
Etienne and Abang are yet to hit their 20s. Remember the last time the Red Bulls had a promising striker before he turned 20 who had his playing time blocked, so he had to leave? Juan Agudelo. Don’t let this happen to Abang, who has graduated into the senior national team for Cameroon. Give youth a chance, as has been the case with Alex Muyl.
As for Etienne, he’s earned widespread plaudits all year long for his play at NYRB II. He’s not a striker, he’s a winger, which is why the two of them are lumped in together here. Alex Muyl likely has the most to gain now that Sam is out of the picture, as he’s started ahead of the now-former RBNY man for a few successive games anyway, plus he graduated into the first team before Etienne - who is still waiting for his MLS debut.
Now, Etienne could be one of the first players off the bench or one of the first when Marsch wants to rotate his team. And Etienne has an ability on the ball in tight spaces that is not commonplace in the squad. Muyl has good control and solid crossing and shooting, but Etienne has occasionally spell-binding close control, and the imagination to put it to good use.
Giving these Abang and Etienne increased roles helps for the future. Young players go where the opportunities go and the Red Bulls would be wise to hand their youth products an opportunity to grow in New York’s red and white.
4. Kenwyne Jones
Jones has proved by moving to Abu Dhabi to play for Al Jazira for the second half of last season that he’s open to leaving England and Europe to work. He’s currently left without a contract after Cardiff City released the 31-year-old striker.
The Trinidad and Tobago national team captain has played in the Premier League but was always one of those players who was good enough for the Championship but just off the pace for the Premier League.
You know what that makes him in MLS? A Designated Player.
3. Oscar Cardozo
Cardozo has asked to leave Trabzonspor, the club confirmed. Cardozo has been linked with the Red Bulls. The Red Bulls need a striker and Cardozo wants a new club. Perfect marriage!
The 33 year old scored buckets and buckets of goals in his seven-year stint at Benfica then continued his prolific ways during his first season in Turkey, though his output slipped this year.
Cardozo needs to be rejuvenated, so do the Red Bulls. The dude scores goals, he could certainly enjoy a BWP-esque time in MLS.
2. Miroslav Klose
The German legend just turned 38, but so what? So did Didier Drogba and he seems to be doing just fine in MLS.
The problem with Klose is that he’s a stop-gap. He’s a rental. He's not like Etienne or Abang who could be around the club for a while, his playing career has an expiration date that is fast approaching.
Klose could complement Wright-Phillips, on the pitch and as part of greater rotation up top. At his age, he might not be up for week-in-week-out 90-minute shifts, but he would be a helluva back-up for the younger BWP.
1. Mario Gomez
This is the pipe dream. If a striker that turns 31 a day after the 2016 Euros final whose game has never relied on pace would consider coming to the Red Bulls, it doesn’t matter if the team had already got three designated players who are strikers. That’s just a situation they couldn’t afford to not pursue.
Gomez has scored a goal every other game wherever he’s been (except Fiorentina, though when he left on loan for Besiktas he upped it to just under a goal a game to make up for lost time.) Imagine a player with his prowess in MLS?
As Sebastian Giovinco and Andrea Pirlo can attest, though, is that this would probably spell the end of his international career, despite receiving a lifeline in the Euros before getting injured during the quarterfinals.
Though as he’s a striker that thrives on crosses, that 4-4-2 tight diamond formation might have received a Draymond Green kick to the cojones with him, but if you can go get Gomez, you do it and figure out the rest later.