The latest roster update from MLS sees Fredrik Gulbrandsen added to the team's roster, occupying one of the squad's international spots as expected. It also, however, includes the surprising news that RBNY still has an open international spot on its roster.
Prior iterations of the team's roster had seen Bradley Wright-Phillips occupying an international slot, but that clearly has changed. We can assume BWP has recently secured a Green Card and is now considered a domestic player by MLS for roster purposes.
This is good news for RBNY. The team's roster looks to have plenty of room in it for all manner of future moves. There is space in the squad: MLS lists the Red Bulls as having 27 of 30 roster spots filled, but two of those are filled by Anatole Abang and Gideon Baah. The former is on loan (to nowhere) outside the league and the latter is on the season-ending injury list. RBNY's 27-man squad is more like 25 - and the team should be allowed to fill all of those spots if it so chooses.
Presently, it seems RBNY is taking advantage of a roster rule that says spots 19 and 20 of the senior roster (those spots that count against the salary cap) do not have to be filled, allowing the team to spread its salary budget across 18 players instead of 20.
If RBNY is keeping its roster small to provide higher pay to its incumbent senior players, then it might not have the cap space to fill spots 19 and 20. But it might also have reserves of allocation money (it got $200,000 for this season from trading Dax McCarty) to use to effectively create more cap space for itself. And a replacement for Gideon Baah may be signed without affecting the salary cap, as long as the replacement is signed before the current MLS transfer window closes on May 8. The team is stuck with Anatole Abang's salary, though it can treat his roster spot as open if need be.
So there is considerable room for new signings: at least two senior roster spots, and one on the "Reserve Roster", which is where RBNY might stash another Homegrown player if it feels so inclined.
There is also a Designated Player slot still available, in case the Red Bulls want to go shopping for a higher-priced player. And - thanks to BWP - there is an open international slot, so the team is not limited to domestic options if it wants to boost the squad at any position.
Roster flexibility is an important concept in MLS. It can be very difficult to retrieve a season that is going south without it. And a team with flexibility can exploit one without it - as RBNY did last season when it landed Aurelien Collin for a late-round draft pick while leaving Orlando to pick up half the player's salary. Orlando traded for flexibility; RBNY desperately needed a senior defender at the time, but it didn't need to give away much to get Collin because the team he was on needed him off the roster more than it needed anything in exchange for him.
Getting caught without flexiblity can leave a team in MLS needing to make some lopsided trades, or simply stuck with what it has got for a while. Having roster flexibility is the way a team keeps its options open, keeps itself able take advantage of an unexpected signing opportunity or able to trade its way out of an injury crisis. Flexibility doesn't in itself win trophies, of course. But it's nice to have, and it seems the Red Bulls have it at the moment.