The New York Red Bulls return from a 10-day break in their schedule with old roster problems traded in for new ones. It is said a change is as good as a rest, so perhaps RBNY is refreshed by the news that Aurelien Collin is ready to return to the field of play. The center-back spent most of May in a state of seemingly endless near-fitness, but the teasing reports would appear to be a thing of past: last week, both Collin and head coach Jesse Marsch agreed he was ready to play again.
Collin's return is a significant boost. Until the Red Bulls acquire the center-back they have long said they are chasing, the team effectively only has three specialist CBs on the roster: Damien Perrinelle, Aaron Long, and Collin. With Collin down, that number was reduced to two. Teenager Hassan Ndam is also a center-back on a first-team contract, but on two occasions this season when RBNY was forced to look beyond its trio of seasoned CBs, utility-man Sal Zizzo was selected over Ndam. The 18-year-old rookie can be forgiven for not being entirely ready for first-team minutes, but it's fair to ask the Red Bulls whether Zizzo-at-CB was part of the pre-season roster planning.
So the good news is Collin is back and RBNY once again has something resembling depth at CB. A new signing isn't quite as urgent a requirement as seemed to be the case last month.
Of course, since they last played a competitive game, the Red Bulls have lost attacking depth. Fredrik Gulbrandsen has returned to RB Salzburg in a move that might not have been entirely RBNY's decision.
Thank you for all your support NYRB fans! But right now i felt that the best choice for me was to go back to Salzburg— Fredrik Gulbrandsen (@gulbrandsen92) June 7, 2017
Easy come, easy go is arguably the reason clubs engage in loan deals in the first place, so perhaps file Gulbrandsen's departure as an occupational hazard. Though he showed plenty of energy and promise in his 12 appearances for RBNY, he also only registered one assist - and no goals. His minutes were limited (he played 362: roughly four complete games), but he was also just one of many modestly productive attacking players on the roster.
The Red Bulls still have Daniel Royer, Mike Grella, Derrick Etienne, Alex Muyl, Gonzalo Veron, and the roster's forgotten man, second-year forward Brandon Allen. And another attacking player is on the team's summer shopping list, though Jesse Marsch made comments to MSG's Kristian Dyer last week that suggested recent trialist Alexy Bosetti might not be the solution the club is seeking.
Getting Collin back to relieve an over-worked center-back pairing surely outweighs the loss of the under-used Gulbrandsen, so one might suggest RBNY is a little stronger than it was when it played its last competitive game - the 1-0 road loss to Montreal Impact on June 3.
Or at least, it will be by the end of this week. Unfortunately, before the end of this week there is a game to play: the June 14 US Open Cup fixture against New York City FC. And for that match the Red Bulls have a new problem - they are light on full-backs.
Reports out of training earlier this week declared Connor Lade had taken a knock and was considered "a little bit day to day" by Jesse Marsch.
As per Marsch, Connor Lade has picked up a knock and is day-to-day. #RBNY— Seeing Red (@SeeingRedNY) June 12, 2017
Note that Collin was designated "week-to-week" for what turned out to be a month-long absence and you perhaps understand the concern.
It's a particular concern for the NYCFC game because without Lade it seems the Red Bulls have one fully-fit and fresh full-back.
Kemar Lawrence played a full 90 minutes in Peru for Jamaica on June 13 and wasn't expected to participate in the USOC game on June 14 anyway. Marsch told MSG's Kristian Dyer he was perhaps willing to chance playing Amir Murillo in the match as the Panama international was expected to return from his national-team duty on June 14 - but Murillo played the full match for Los Canaleros against Honduras on June 13. It's testing the recovery powers of even a young player to ask him to play back-to-back games inside 24 hours in two different countries. (It would not have been unreasonable for Marsch to think Murillo might not play at all for Panama during the international break, but that plan unfortunately disintegrated once the starting lineup for the Honduras game was announced.)
So Lawrence and Murillo would appear to be in no position to play for RBNY against NYCFC. One suspects Lade was penciled in to start at left back in USOC, because he has played that position well in the past and because the Red Bulls allowed Justin Bilyeu to play a full 90 minutes for NYRB II on Sunday, June 11.
No doubt Bilyeu can handle a second game inside a week, but if he had been expected to start or even play against NYCFC, it is peculiar that he was given a full game (at center-back) just three days before the USOC match. Derrick Etienne has featured regularly for the II team in recent weeks, and he was held out of the June 11 match; Marsch subsequently confirmed Etienne is expected to be in the 18 for the NYCFC game.
But if Lade is ruled out then RBNY doesn't have a lot of options. With Lawrence and Murillo absent as well, the choice is to play Bilyeu or start to improvise a little. Aaron Long or Tyler Adams could fill in at full-back, for example. And if Lade does show up in the match-day squad or in the starting lineup, it will be with some question-marks about his fitness hanging over him.
This is not an injury crisis: Lawrence and Murillo should be ready to run by the end of the week. But for one game at least, it would seem the Red Bulls are returned from their June break in much the same condition as they started it: injuries and absences challenging squad depth on the back line. The positions of concern have changed, but the basic problem is familiar.
It is said a change is as good as a rest. Hopefully that proves to be the case against NYCFC.