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They extended Abang and a few less surprising things in the New York Red Bulls’ 2018 roster update

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RBNY’s squad has been trimmed from 31 to 23 by the end-of-season roster update; it’ll be 24 if they find their way to re-signing Tim Parker.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at New York Red Bulls Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Red Bulls have exercised the option on Anatole Abang’s contract, extending the forward’s time with the club to a fifth year.

Abang spent nearly two full years - about half his tenure with RBNY to date - on loan, occasionally to nowhere, returning to the Red Bulls at the close of the last summer transfer window. Since being allowed back to a team that mostly wouldn’t talk about where he was or what he was doing between the Augusts of 2016 and 2018, Abang has played no minutes at all for the RBNY first team. Perhaps it is fitting that the Red Bulls have decided to extend a relationship that consistently finds new ways to be surprising.

Per the official club announcement on it end-of-season roster update, RBNY has picked up contract options for 11 players heading into 2019. In addition to Abang, the players with contracts freshly extended into the season are:

  • Goalkeepers: Evan Louro and Ryan Meara
  • Defenders: Kyle Duncan, Aaron Long, and Michael Murillo
  • Midfielders: Vincent Bezecourt, Derrick Etienne, Alex Muyl, and Florian Valot
  • Forward: Brian White

Contract options for Aurelien Collin, Ethan Kutler, Kevin Politz, and Carlos Rivas were declined.

The club also declined end-of-loan options for Fidel Escobar and Marc Rzatkowski.

The announcement noted Tim Parker and Tommy Redding are out of contract. Discussions about a return to RBNY for 2019 are ongoing with Parker.

The end-of-season roster update sets the tone for the off-season ahead.

Parker’s contract renewal has been a looming issue since he was signed, largely because he was reportedly available because the Vancouver Whitecaps had given up hope of agreeing terms with him. If Parker can be retained, then RBNY will have its entire 2018 starting back four under contract for 2019 - and perhaps beyond. Kemar Lawrence got a fresh contract this season. Aaron Long and Michael Murillo would appear to be due fresh deals, and the team has just offloaded a lot of salary, so it should have funds available to entice both players into new contracts.

RBNY Players Released End-of-Year 2018 (salary source: mlsplayers.org)

Name Position Base Salary Total Compensation End-of-Season Status
Name Position Base Salary Total Compensation End-of-Season Status
Aurelien Collin D 450,000 450,000 Option Declined
Fidel Escobar D 145,000.08 145,000.08 End-of-Loan Option Declined
Ethan Kutler D 54,500.04 54,500.04 Option Declined
Tim Parker D 97,185.00 115,935.00 Contract Expired (Negotiation ongoing)
Kevin Politz D 54,500.04 57,105.51 Option Declined
Carlos Rivas M/F 444,996.00 444,996.00 Option Declined
Tommy Redding D 125,000 147,500 Contract Expired
Marc Rzatkowski M/F 885,000.00 976,166.66 End-of-Loan Option Declined
Total 2,256,181 2,391,203

Whether Parker is renewed or not, however, the primary theme of the off-season looks to be center-backs. The team has just released five - and only Parker appears to be on RBNY’s wishlist for a return. Collin, Escobar, Redding, and Politz may have been underused by the first team, but the Red Bulls now have just two specialist center-backs on their roster - Long and Hassan Ndam. Parker would bump that up to three. With a Gold Cup to be played this summer and both Long and Parker in the mix to play in that tournament, RBNY could use some insurance against international duty - as well as the usual need to cover positional needs arising from injury or suspension.

Abang is the only true surprise among the retained players, mostly because it’s not clear why RBNY would retain a player it hasn’t had any apparent interest in since mid-2016. Leadership at the club has changed since Abang’s exile, and perhaps Ali Curtis or Jesse Marsch - or both - took with them whatever it was that blocked the player’s return to the team. Or maybe the Red Bulls are simply mindful of the fact there is an Expansion Draft ahead, and there was a brief moment almost two years ago when FC Cincinnati was rumored to be interested in signing Abang.

Form and fitness issues have made Aurelien Collin a back-up on a starter’s salary for two seasons now - no shock his option was declined. The veteran center-back did tell OaM’s James Justice he’d like to stick around at RBNY and that he’d taken a pay-cut to stick with the team before, so fair to say he’d likely answer the phone if Denis Hamlett called.

Redding never seemed to make a convincing case for first-team minutes. Politz got a lot of time with the II team in USL, and perhaps that was all RBNY needed to see to make a decision about his future. Escobar managed the rare feat of being a regular starter for his country and very rarely seeing the field for his club - it was time for him to move on before his lack of playing time with RBNY started to burden his national-team career.

Parker aside, none of the released CBs were critical to RBNY’s cause this season, but the team is going to need more than two or three MLS-capable players at that position to get through a full season.

A combination of trialists, transfer rumors, and II-team signings suggested that full-back depth was a priority of RBNY’s scouting this season. Ethan Kutler’s apparent departure would appear to confirm what the club’s seeming constant search for more full-backs suggested: he’s not the answer for RBNY. The team also lost a little full-back depth with Tyler Adams’ departure to Leipzig. Still, with Murillo, Duncan, Lawrence, and Connor Lade on the roster heading into 2019, the roster has more full-backs than CBs at the moment.

Adam’s exit does leave a much bigger hole in midfield. A hole that doesn’t get any smaller with Marc Rzatkowki’s apparent return to Red Bull Salzburg. But he should have about another 18 months to run on his contract with RBS, and he was reportedly costing RBNY close to $1 million in salary. Given the Red Bulls knew exactly what terms Rzatkowski was on when they loaned him from Salzburg and it seems Tyler Adams’ transfer to RBL was in the works for some time, RBNY should have had plenty of time to prepare for the predictable circumstance of having neither player on the roster for 2019. And indeed the Red Bulls have two prospects already lined up to compete for midfield minutes: Cristian Casseres has already clocked some time with the first team; Jean Christophe-Koffi will join the squad in January.

Carlos Rivas arrived from Orlando looking like a player who was struggling to justify a relatively high salary by MLS standards. He didn’t do a lot to shake off that reputation with RBNY and was loaned out to Atletico Nacional in July. The Red Bulls do need some back-up for Bradley Wright-Phillips at forward, and it isn’t entirely clear that Abang or Brian White are really suited to the task. But they are less costly options to explore than Rivas.

There is an Expansion Draft on December 11 and RBNY can only protect 11 of the players it currently has on its roster. Indeed, it likely will only protect 10 since Tim Parker will need to be protected too if RBNY doesn’t want to lose its place at the head of the line of teams interested in his signature. FC Cincinnati might make a selection that adds another concern to RBNY’s off-season roster-building list - the team currently has three ‘keepers under contract, for example, but if one goes then it will need to find another.

The good news is that RBNY’s two big holes in the roster so far this off-season - the ones left by Adams and Parker - were both predictable and the club has had time to prepare itself. It has offloaded a considerable amount of salary, so it should have some flexibility for whatever negotiations lie ahead.

Given the pressing needs at center-back, it will be a modest surprise if all 23 of the players currently under contract are still with the team even by the beginning of pre-season, let alone the first competitive game of 2019: there is very likely some trading ahead for RBNY. But Denis Hamlett would appear to have given himself sufficient room in the salary budget, cash (from the Adams transfer at least), and roster space for a productive off-season shopping the transfer market.