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Weekly News Update: September 21, 2020

Kaku and Cásseres prepare for international duty, Alex Comas ruminates on his Meadowlands years, and Tim Parker gets back in touch with native Long Island sporting culture in this week’s news update

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Mutiny v MetroStars X
Former MetroStars striker Alex Comas admits feeling his time in New York was a career mistake

Welcome to the Weekly News Bulletin presented by Once A Metro. I want you to tell two friends to read this post. Then I want you to tell those two friends to tell two of their friends to read this post. Soon we will have an elite force of Red Bulls fans armed with the knowledge and information to get through a week of virtual water cooler conversations. Only… I doubt anyone reading this website has a friend, let alone two.

Here’s this week’s top story.

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It appears the interim manager has already made some beneficial tactical changes. Everyone’s favorite midfielder Kaku sat down for an interview with Radio La Unión, down the Paraguayan dial at 800 AM. He discussed some of the recent Red Bulls events and his hopes for the national team.

While Kaku had been playing as the left-side attacking midfielder in the 4-2-2-2, the switch to a more comfortable formation pushed him back to the center of the field and helped younger players adjust. Despite playing on the wing in Argentina, he’s been asked to alter his playing style in MLS, which includes pressing more frequently. The 2-0 win against D.C. United was “good for the spirits,” but the tightly packed schedule presented a challenge of preparation.

As for his national team aspirations, he hopes to play with Paraguay at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. He’s willing to line up anywhere in the midfield, so long as it helps fulfill his dream. Los Guaraníes haven’t qualified for the World Cup since 2010, with CONMEBOL qualifying resembling an abattoir.

Special thanks to @JuanMapu for his assistance translating and explaining the tactical nuance from this interview.

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The Venezuelan national team announced the preliminary 40-player list for its upcoming 2022 World Cup qualifiers. Included in the group is Red Bulls midfielder Cristian Cásseres Jr. La Vinotinto starts the road to Qatar next month with matches against Colombia (October 8th) and Paraguay (October 13th).

Cásseres has never made a senior appearance, but it seems to be only a matter of time considering his frequent inclusion at the youth international level. His father of the same name earned 28 caps with the national team, having only retired from club play in 2018. Perhaps it will be the son who leads Venezuela to its first ever World Cup appearance.

It’s possible that October 13th will be a must-watch for Red Bulls fans, with Cásseres and Kaku facing off at the Estadio Metropolitano de Mérida. Unless they both aren’t named to the rosters or a really good episode of Murder, She Wrote is on. Then I’ll probably watch that.

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Could there be a softening of previous restrictions? According to a report from Nicolò Schira (via Red Bull Hub), RB Leipzig is kicking the tires on Croatian attacker Ivan Perišić. Inter Milan is looking for 15 million euros but is open to a loan.

What makes this transfer interesting and possibly relevant to New York? Perišić is 31 years old, well outside of the traditional non-goalkeeper acquisition age under Ralfball guidelines. Leipzig has signed two field players over the age of 24 since 2015, and both were a mere 26. Perhaps the transfer of more expensive veterans is viewed as a necessity as the club attempts to capture both the German Bundesliga and the Champions League. As for New York, it could indicate the softening of “one size fits all” umbrella restrictions, allowing for head of sport Kevin Thelwell to carve out his own fiefdom.

For now, it’s just a transfer rumor. If it progresses, even without completion, it signals a new decade and a changing look for Red Bull Football.

***

The University Campus of Football Business speaker series continued, with two more talks featuring New York Red Bulls staff members. Senior Director of Youth Programs and Academy Business Operations Dave Jervis discussed how the club has a responsibility to grow the game. “We want to be friends with everybody because we realize if [local leagues] improve 10%, it will increase the number of players, it will increase the quality,” he told students. The Red Bulls provide coaching and technical instruction to local clubs, which in turn appears to have bolstered the Academy’s ranks with talents from a variety of sources.

Senior Director of Strategy and Analytics Logan Smith also addressed the students. The Red Bulls are attempting to chase new fans, due to the league not being woven into the fabric of American society. The club can pursue new and untraditional avenues such as digital platforms and the “infusion of sports betting.”

***

Fidel Escobar’s journey to AD Alcorcón wasn’t just a transfer move but the fulfillment of a dream. The Panamanian midfielder-defender joined the Segunda División side this past summer and has been “very happy” with his new team and teammates. He’s committed to the Madrid based club, not calculatingly viewing it as “a passport to greater goals.” The 25-year-old is likely looking for some stability after being on the books at six different teams since 2016.

An added benefit of the new surroundings is the living situation. Escobar lives five minutes from the stadium. As anyone will tell you, the commute is often the worst part of the day and an absolute time suck draining years from one’s life. Enjoy the extra hours and make good use of them, Fidel.

The Potters opened the 2020-2021 season with a scoreless draw against CD Mirandés. Escobar did not make an appearance due to “muscular discomfort.” While a disappointing beginning, one missed opportunity shouldn’t overshadow what is sure to be a three-year contract’s worth of success.

***

A former Red Bull might be on the move. One-time loan signing Fredrik Gulbrandsen appears set to depart Turkish Süper Lig champion İstanbul Başakşehir after a single season. The destination is FC Nantes in Ligue 1, who recently had a few transfer negotiations fizzle.

According to a report from 20 Minutes, the Canaries are in search of attacking talent, which led them to the Norwegian striker. He was a rotation player in Turkey, scoring three goals in 33 exponentially diminishing appearances. While the 28-year-old’s contract lasts through 2022, it is likely Başakşehir will be amenable to his departure if presented with a speculated three-to-four million Euro fee.

When asked about the possibility of returning to New York, Fredrik reportedly laughed for a solid three days. That didn’t happen, but I imagine it would have.

***

Life is a series of sliding doors that present us with the choices that will ultimately shape our journey and destination. For former MetroStar Alex Comas, his move to MLS may have been a bit premature. Speaking with Colombian outlet El Heraldo, the retired striker touched on his time stateside, claiming he “got a little desperate and left very young for the United States.” Had he held out, the Barranquilla native believes he could have made a bigger move to Argentina or Brazil.

Comas played with the MetroStars in 2000 and 2001, an impact signing brought in by manager Octavio Zambrano and general manager Nick Sakiewicz. He contributed 16 goals and 12 assists in 47 appearances, the majority coming during his first season. His second year at the club was less productive, with a mid-season departure the end result.

It’s great to hear that even successful professional soccer players second guess and ruminate on past decisions, you know, if you needed another reason to feel anxious.

***

The coronavirus fallout continues. RSC Anderlecht announced that two employees and three players tested positive and were quarantined. According to reports and speculation, former Red Bulls Amir Murillo and Kemar Lawrence were not among the group.

Anderlecht has yet to lose this season, sporting a 2-0-3 record. Murillo is one of the club’s key players, taking advantage of his attacking role and making an impact in the final third. Commentator Gert Verheyen noted the Panamanian’s strong play on both sides of the ball, terming his abilities “everything a modern right back should have.”

Whatever one’s feelings are on Murillo and his time in MLS, his Belgian ascent is compelling. Will New York regret letting him go so cheaply or, more importantly, will Salzburg?

***

It seems like a week doesn’t pass without a player sharing some story that grows the legend of Thierry Henry. To both teammate and opponent, he was a fierce competitor and benevolent steward of the sport. Recently, former player and current analyst Charlie Davies shared the tale of his run-in with the legendary Frenchman before a match in 2011.

“[Henry] came up to me before our game versus Red Bull New York,” Davies told Football Paradise. “He said, ‘It’s courageous what you’re doing and I wish you the best and keep fighting.’ I nearly melted to the floor. I was thinking, ‘How am I supposed to play this game now?’”

Davies was on the road to recovery following the devastating 2009 car crash that derailed his rising career. He received Henry’s jersey after the match and considers it the favorite in his collection. It was a moment of class from someone who embodies excellence on and off the field.

***

With the start of fall, the nation’s children are returning to school. In these challenging times, they can turn to one man to guide them through an uncertain future: Sal Zizzo. The former Red Bull defender-midfielder addressed the students of the San Diego Unified School District with a welcoming message of perseverance. “Study hard, stay focused, follow your dreams, and the rest will take care of itself,” he wisely imparted.

Zizzo played with the Red Bulls from 2015 through 2017. He was a member of Atlanta United’s MLS Cup winning squad in 2018 and announced his retirement in May of 2019. However, he returned to the game a short time later, signing for his hometown San Diego Loyal in the USL. The 33-year-old U.S. international has made ten appearances this inaugural season.

Go forth and be prosperous, young students. Take Sal’s words to heart because, after all, he’s an MLS Cup champion.

***

Red Bulls fans have been frothing at the mouth for another update on the transfer saga of former U-23s defender Jean-Claude Billong. The French defender was on the outs at Serie B side Salernitana (on long-term loan from Benevento) and looking to find a new destination. Rumors and insinuendos linked him with a move to a handful of English clubs including West Ham, Crystal Palace, Watford, Norwich, and West Bromwich. However, he seems destined for a more Mediterranean locale.

Yes, as you undoubtedly already heard, Billong is reportedly signing for newly promoted Hatayspor of the Turkish Süper Lig. The debutantes are said to have signed him to an agreement for two seasons with an additional team-option for an additional year. The journey continues onward and upward for the player who was once on the books at Cosmopolitan Soccer League side New York Greek American.

If one hears a door slamming at Red Bull Arena, no doubt the source is head of sport Kevin Thelwell, frustrated in his failed or nonexistent pursuit to bring Billong home. Tantrum if you must but harbor doubt it will do anything to quell the upcoming angry supporters’ banners and tifos protesting the club’s folly.

***

FC Morristown emerged victorious from the NJ State Cup with a 2-1 win over Clifton Elite. It’s the club’s second title this season after capturing the Garden State Soccer League Super Division in a penalty shootout. The Celtics were set to compete in the NPSL before the season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Motown is managed by former Red Bull Šaćir Hot, who assumed the job in 2016 and also works as an assistant at Fordham University under former RBNY scout Carlo Acquista. The club, based in Cedar Knolls and Madison, will be competing in the upcoming North East Super League alongside other accomplished teams from the U.S. Adult Soccer Association. The grind at the amateur level is a relentless treadmill of matches in a variety of competitions, but Hot appears to be guiding his squad to continued success.

***

What better way to welcome a lacrosse team’s draft pick than with a message from a fan of the sport? Tim Parker uploaded a video to social media directed to the newest member of the National Lacrosse League’s New York Riptide. The player had yet to be selected at the time, but it was still a firm salutation for the top selection in the draft.

The Riptide, playing at the Nassau Coliseum, finished the canceled 2020 season with a 1-12 record. They selected Jeff Teat out of Cornell with their pick. Parker grew up in the lacrosse crazy area of Long Island and earned four high school varsity letters in the sport.

And… that’s the only story there was about Tim Parker last week. Nothing else was mentioned. There wasn’t a deleted tweet involving a trade rumor or anything like that at all.

***

One the road again, Anatole Abang is on the road again. The former Red Bulls striker left Moldovan club Sheriff Tiraspol after eight months and is now a free agent. Manager Zoran Zekic confirmed the Cameroonian international’s departure along with Yugoslavian attacker Gabrijel Boban. He contributed five goals and three assists in eight matches.

Abang received a first half red card in Sheriff’s 2-1 elimination loss to Qarabağ in the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League. According to a sourced report from CFoot, the club proposed a contract extension and salary reduction that was rejected. At 24 years old, he begins the hunt for his eighth professional home. What nation will provide the next stamp on his passport?

Here’s a joke that was submitted by Muriel of Garwood.

“He didn’t leave Moldova with a bang but with a red card.”

Thank you, Muriel. I hope you demolish the rest of the ladies auxiliary at this week’s cribbage competition.

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