Brandon Allen scored the 30th goal of his pro soccer career on Saturday, July 1.
.@brandon21allen's 30th career @USL goal to give @NYRBII the lead!#NYvSTL | #NYRBII pic.twitter.com/eDLQgZ8OWY— NYRB II (@NYRBII) July 1, 2017
It was the sort of right-place-at-the-right-time goal that has become his soccer signature. The sort of goal that makes it very easy to dismiss Allen as a tap-in merchant, a player benefiting more from the system he's playing in than his own ability. Except that analysis needs to account for the inconvenient truth about Allen: he's in the right place at the right time a lot more often than a lot of players of seemingly superior talent.
Brandon Allen's talent is scoring goals. And he has the scoring records - from his high school, the New York Red Bulls Academy and his college, Georgetown - to prove it. As a pro, his 30 goals have been scored in 46 appearances: an exceptional rate of scoring. Allen is NYRB II's all-time leading scorer, having scored every one of his goals as a pro for the II team in the USL regular season or playoffs. In 2015, his rookie year as a pro, he was the USL Rookie of the Year and USL Cup MVP (he bagged a hat-trick in the Cup final). In 2016, he is again NYRB II's leading scorer, with nine goals from 14 appearances.
A high-volume scorer at every level he's played at is traditionally regarded as a big deal. Indeed, Allen has a contract with the New York Red Bulls because his knack for finding the net at youth and college level was hard to ignore. And he's brought that same knack with him to the pro level. He would seem to be doing exactly what might have been expected of him - except, it would also appear that he is not.
Mid-way through his second season with RBNY, Allen has one appearance for the first team to his name: seven minutes against Toronto FC back in May, 2016. True to form, he put the ball in the net - unfortunately for him, he was offside. (Tune in around 3:32 below.)
Despite his consistency, RBNY pedigree, and the persistent observation that the Red Bulls could use an alternative to star striker Bradley Wright-Phillips from time to time, Allen has not done enough to persuade Jesse Marsch to give him another shot at first-team minutes.
Part of the reason for that is surely just poor luck. Allen has made match-day squads with the first team, but clearly circumstances conspired against him on those occasions. Marsch evidently hasn't looked at his bench and thought the game would benefit from a little Brandon Allen since May 2016 - and that is the head coach's prerogative. NYRB II is a development squad that should be giving players regular opportunity to prove themselves; RBNY's first team should be playing for results.
But it is difficult to see what more Allen can do to win Marsch's confidence. He isn't really a young player any more: he is 23 years old; he'll be 24 in October. And he scores goals; lots and lots of goals. Thirty goals would put Allen at eighth on RBNY's all-time scoring list, if he'd scored them for the first team - but he hasn't. And he won't score any goals in MLS watching from the bench.
If Allen isn't going to play for the RBNY first team, it is approaching time to let him try his luck elsewhere. Ideally, in exchange for something of value to the Red Bulls, since high-volume goal scorers should have some value on the transfer market.
Well-connected reporter Kristian Dyer has unearthed evidence that RBNY might be waking up to the idea that Allen probably isn't going to transform into the player they want him to be, but that his scoring record could be attractive to other teams.
Hearing rumblings of Brandon Allen going out on a loan. Minnesota a possible destination; they showed interest in preseason. #RBNY #Loons— Kristian Dyer (@KristianRDyer) July 2, 2017
The Red Bulls are giving every impression of readying themselves for some summer transfer activity. They've said they want to bring in new players. They've recently re-upped a couple of senior players - Felipe and Luis Robles - which is often a sign of salary-cap right-sizing for impending moves. They've waived one lightly-used junior player - Justin Bilyeu - which at the very least suggests the team is in a fish-or-cut-bait frame of mind.
It would be disappointing to see Allen's career with RBNY end with him quietly exiting the club as a free agent at the end of his contract. If the Red Bulls aren't going to use him in MLS, then a loan to another team where he might raise his profile and transfer value would seem to make a lot of sense - for him and the club. He can score goals in USL. It is time for him to see if he can score goals at a higher level. And it is time for the Red Bulls to hand the roster spot marked "promising young goal scorer" to a player they actually intend to trust with first-team minutes.