Atletico Nacional's Alejandro Bernal is an unexpected name to find in the New York Red Bulls' rumor-mill pigeonhole this winter. Unexpected because the 28-year-old is traditionally regarded as a defensive midfielder, and if there is one thing the current RBNY roster has in ample supply it is defensive midfielders.
Club captain Dax McCarty and Felipe Martins have been the preferred deep-midfield pairing for RBNY for the past two seasons. Sean Davis and Tyler Adams are homegrown players who the team would appear to be grooming as future d-mid starters. Sacha Kljestan is an attacking playmaker in the current set-up, but has the skill-set to play a holding role if required. The Red Bulls don't lack options for the midfield engine room.
But a Twitter whisper from reporter John Rojas now has support from Colombian outlet Futbol Red.
Rumor #Colombian Alejandro Bernal midfielder #AtleticoNacional on #RBNY #MLS radar for 2017 season— John E. Rojas (@jrojasa75) January 4, 2017
Futbol Red advises that Deportivo Tachira had shown interest in the player, but RBNY has reportedly leapfrogged the Venezuelan club to lead the race to be Bernal's next team.
Bernal's 2016 was hampered by injury and he played less of a role for the club than in previous years. Until last year, he had been a regular starter in all competitions for a team that has won four Colombian league titles, three Copa Colombia trophies, two Colombian SuperCups, and the 2016 Copa Libertadores since he joined the club in 2012.
Bernal did not feature in El Verde's Libertadores-winning squad, but he was a regular in the team that made it to the 2016 Copa Sudamericana final. Atletico Nacional was the opponent Chapecoense never got to play in that final.
The midfielder was also in the squad the Medellin-based club sent to the 2016 Club World Cup. He didn't make the field during the tournament; El Verde ultimately finished third.
Injury problems notwithstanding, Bernal's status as a first-team regular for one of the more successful clubs in South America is not an insignificant achievement. He also presumably has some knowledge of RBNY: his head coach at Atletico Nacional from 2012 to 2015 was Juan Carlos Osorio (head coach of RBNY from 20017 to 2009), and he played alongside Juan Pablo Angel in 2013 and 2014.
But it's difficult to give this rumor any great weight until or unless the Red Bulls clear some space in their well-stocked midfield. Bernal also seems a little older (and a little too-recently injured) for a team that mostly wants to be younger and hungrier than its MLS opponents.
If his time at Atletico Nacional is coming to an end, it's not hard to see why other clubs would be interested in Alejandro Bernal. But it is hard to identify why one of those clubs would be RBNY.