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Red Bulls Round-Up: January 2, 2021

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Chris Armas interviews with Toronto, Kemar Lawrence teaches the kids, and Hans Backe decides what to do with his $15 million horse in this week’s links

New York Red Bulls Name Hans Backe Head Coach Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for New York Red Bull

Welcome to the Red Bulls Round-Up presented by Once a Metro.

It’s another year and, yes, I’m still doing this. Some, many, all may call this a rut, but I like to think of it as providing a valuable service to the world. Sure, I’m not saving lives or helping others, but I’m giving three, possibly four people information they absolutely don’t need to know. Please, stop reading. Free me from these chains of expectations.

Here’s this week’s top story.

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As is becoming too frequent a story in these pandemic times, Amro Tarek appears to have tested positive with coronavirus. The Red Bulls defender posted on the stories section of his personal Instagram account, announcing, “I’ve tested positive for Corona.” Hopefully, the defender enjoys a full recovery and experiences none of long-term symptoms associated with the virus.

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Tarek isn’t the only player on the RBNY books dealing with the covid-19 pandemic. On-loan striker Mathias Jørgensen and three of his Aarhus Gymnastikforening teammates tested positive. Although there “is no immediate infection in others at the club,” the four will be spending time quarantined in isolation and return when training restarts on January 6th.

Despite the medical setback, he’s excited to prove himself in his new environment. AGF’s new striker spoke with local media about his hopes for the next six months. “It is up to me to go out on the training ground and prove that I want the club and the team,” said the 20-year-old. “I see no better time to switch to AGF than now, where the club has been through good development for several years and is in a positive period. And I will do everything so that we can ride on the wave we are on right now.”

Jørgensen has yet to train with his new club but has “a really good first impression of AGF” and “immediately felt welcome in the squad.” He describes the facilities as “fantastic” staffed “with talented people with a passion.” Unfortunately, several of those talented people are already in the club’s one-striker starting lineup, with firmly established attacker Patrick Mortensen putting up 11 goals in 17 matches. However, a crowded depth chart shouldn’t be a challenge for the self-described “fast player who is smart in terms of timing with deep runs” and “a nose for goal.”

Although Jørgensen’s loan has an option to buy, it’s fair to question whether he’ll have enough chances to entice AGF’s management into a transfer. Playing time might be limited, although De hviie (the Whites) are still alive in the Landspokalturneringen (Danish Cup), which presents the opportunity for some rotation. The club’s season resumes on Tuesday, February 2nd against Vejle Bk, which is probably the best time to reconvene in order to further evaluate the situation.

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Here’s a story that was submitted to the Round-Up by our friend Ben of Folly Beach:

As Bruce Springsteen once sang, “Doing business in the USA, I was doing business in the USA.” The European Football Agents Association and the Football Transfer Forum are hosting a webinar by that same name, headlined by a major sporting figure that is performing his duties in the American soccer market. Red Bulls head of sport Kevin Thelwell will be sharing his experiences with an audience of “football agents, sports lawyers, and other industry professionals.

The 90-minute event is scheduled for January 21st, 2021 at 9:30 a.m. and promises to impart “knowledge and information on how the MLS football transfer marketplace works.” Player acquisition methods in the United States are notably fraught with peril, boasting several unique and, at times, aggravating eccentricities. In his brief time at the club, Thelwell has already dealt with an expansion draft and intense negotiations with Minnesota United to sign a player from his own academy, which is quite the education for a newcomer.

Beyond the sporting world, he’s also managed to inspire an Ed Sheeran tribute performer. Former Wolverhampton youth goalkeeper Daniel East thinks back to the words of his former academy director every time he steps on stage and sings. “I remember Kevin Thelwell telling me I needed to be more assertive and I have definitely taken that on with my singing,” he told Express & Star.

I know Red Bulls fans are certainly Thinking Out Loud about winning an MLS Cup.

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PSV Eindhoven fullback Chris Gloster appeared on the Keeping it Simple Podcast. He discussed his journey to the Netherlands, from the fields of Montclair and the Red Bulls Academy to Europe. Of greater interest to the readers of this post is his reaction to rumored transfer interest from his former club.

“I honestly have no idea about that [potential move], really,” the 20-year-old told the host. “I have no idea what’s going on with that. I obviously have to speak to my agents about it because I also was surprised when I saw it. So, you know, we have to see what’s coming up next for me. I have to talk to my agent soon during this winter break and figure out things. We’ll see what’s going to happen in January.”

During the interview, Gloster confessed that a lot of transfer interest comes as a shock to him. Involvement in the rumor mill with clubs previously unbeknownst to players “happens a lot,” even before being informed by his or her agent. So, don’t read anything into his alleged liking of a social media post about returning to the Red Bulls.

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The fan base waits with bated breath for the first signing of the Gerhard Struber era. One of his preferred options off the bench at Barnsley may be available. The print version of Kronen Zeitung indicates Patrick Schmidt is looking to move away from the English club.

The Austrian forward hasn’t played in Barnsley’s last 12 matches, an obvious indication he is nowhere near the plans of current manager Valérien Ismaël. The rumor mill makes no mention of the Red Bulls or Major League Soccer, with the player expressing a desire to return to his former academy and first professional home of Admira Wacker. “I know [head coach Damir] Burić values me,” he told Krone.

However, transfer speculation is meant to be fun, so let’s have some. Schmidt was a vocal supporter of his former manager, labeling Struber’s move away from Barnsley “a shame” and claiming “everyone really liked him.” The Red Bulls are always looking for another option up top, and this one is already familiar with the vertical attacking, high pressing tactical style. Based on the original press release, the 22-year-old is under contract through summer of 2023 with an additional club option year, but perhaps the Tykes would be willing to part with him for a nominal fee lower than the 2019 transfer price of 1.2 million euros.

Schmidt – who would make a somewhat typical Red Bulls signing in that there have been next to zero rumors – would not be considered a prolific striker by even the most generous metrics, but he had a moderate scoring rate in his final two Austrian Bundesliga seasons. What he can do is make fantastically timed runs behind the back line and put himself in a position to score, along with decent build-up play and comfort on the wings. Perhaps a move to MLS would help to unleash his full potential under a manager with a history of signing former players or, the most likely option, this is all nonsense.

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Here’s a story that was submitted to the Round-Up by Juan from the OaM bureau in Oakland.

It’s always the busy season for the first family of Colombian soccer. Father Juan Pablo Ángel recently weighed in on domestic soccer, voicing his support for the creation of a third division league. The former Categoría Primera C was eliminated in 2010, but the former Red Bulls striker believes that additional tiers would open up more opportunities for those attempting to establish a career in the professional game.

The bigger news is the news that his son, Tomás, is training with the first team of Atlético Nacional. While still a member of the club’s academy, the 17-year-old appears set to sign a senior contract in the upcoming transfer window. His father opened and closed his career with Los Verdolagas (The Purslanes) from 1993 through 1997 and 2013 through 2014.

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The full financial fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has yet to be realized. While Red Bull owner and founder Dietrich Mateschitz recently assured that his company is stable, RB Leipzig CEO Oliver Mintzlaff expressed some trepidation for the future of the sporting world. In fact, he envisions this year will be similar to 2020.

“I am worried and afraid that we will no longer see the picture of the Bundesliga before the pandemic and that the stadiums are no longer as full as we were used to,” the 45-year-old told DAZN (via Sportbuzzer). “It’s not like I call [ownership] and say, ‘We have covid-19, transfer the money to us.”

Mintzlaff “expects revenue shortfalls of 30 million euros” for 2020 and 2021. While Red Bull is wealthier than most owners-sponsors-proprietors-guardians, the relationship between company and club “doesn’t go as fan or journalist imagines.” Thankfully, New York already knows to never ask for money.

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In October, former Red Bull (and some other clubs I’ve never heard of) Shaun Wright-Phillips appeared on the delightful Kickback with Nedum podcast. The English winger discussed the entirety of his playing career, including his time in the United States. One thing American soccer fans might know is that many international signings tend to arrive in Major League Soccer by accident.

“I went over to Brad [Wright-Phillips]’ wedding,” the 39-year-old told host Nedum Onuoha. “Me and one of my pals went to watch Red Bull play in Houston. On the flight back, we were on the same flight as the team. I was speaking to Jesse [Marsch] on the way down, just having a chat, and then he said, ‘Would you come in [to train]?”

After a five-day training session, or perhaps a trial, the older Wright-Phillips received an offer. The Greenwich native considered his time with the club “amazing” and “brilliant,” enjoying playing second fiddle to his brother. Although it was a shock how every MLS team “just runs.” He had never trained so hard at any other point in his career, describing the fitness schedule as “like preseason every day.”

The interview did not touch on Wright-Phillips’ favorite apple pie, which presumably remains the one from Pizza Hut. Unfortunately, the dining chain no longer offers the Fried Apple Pie, a cruel slap in the face to those who enjoy their dessert with vanilla icing.

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Here’s a story that was submitted to the Round-Up by our friend Austin of North Somerset.

Former reserve team player Speedy Williams signed with The Miami FC. The Jamaican has won three USL titles, including the 2015 championship with New York. He joins former Red Bulls Vincent Bezecourt, Lloyd Sam, and János Löbe, although it remains to be seen whether they will be there to meet him. The roster update is supposedly “coming soon.

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After a year in which many sporting camps were cancelled, winter break has provided the opportunity for a brief catch up. The children of the Way to Work Academy in Ganshoren, Belgium received a surprise at a recent training session. Anderlecht left back Kemar Lawrence made an appearance, answering questions from the youts. He also discussed the sacrifices and work required to become a professional, stressing “you have to work hard every day to succeed.”

As for that soccer career, Lawrence may not be long for Belgium. The Jamaican international was recently removed from the MLS Allocation List, facilitating an easier hypothetical return to the league. Although he did just play a full 90 minutes in a 2-0 win over Beerschot, so perhaps nothing will come of it.

Amir Murillo did not feature in the match, as he received permission from the players’ council to travel to Panama for a visit with family. After returning to Belgium, the 24-year-old observed seven-day quarantine. One imagines the trip was appreciated, especially after not seeing loved ones for over a year.

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With D.C. United apparently moving on to other candidates, Chris Armas is still looking for a new job. According to MLSSoccer.com, Toronto FC interviewed the 48-year-old “multiple times.” The 2017 MLS Cup champions have struggled to find a manager, with Greg Vanney leaving and rumored target Laurent Blanc opting for less Canadian pastures.

Armas will likely remain a controversial figure in Red Bulls history as his tenure drifts further into the distance of time. Success at another club would intensify the debate over his legacy. Was he a victim of circumstance, a Constantine of soccer waiting to emerge in the right environment? Eventually, we are going to find out.

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The last MetroStar keeps plugging along.

José “Joselito” Vaca made his 627th appearance in the Liga de Fútbol Profesional Boliviano, which ties the record previously set in 1977 by Nicolás Suárez. His historic match resulted in a 4-0 win over Club Deportivo San José. While he didn’t appear in the final fixture of the season, the Santa Cruz native signed a contract extension and will likely reach the milestone soon.

Vaca made his professional debut with Oriente Petrolero. He joined the MetroStars for one season in 2004 after several years with the Dallas Burn. The 38-year-old earned 56 caps with the Bolivian national team before retiring from international soccer in 2016.

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Former Red Bulls manager Juan Carlos Osorio remains unattached after being let go by Atlético Nacional in November. Mexican media continues to link the Colombian with the vacant Club América position, which is a reasonable connection considering his history in charge of Puebla and El Tri. Medio Tiempo reported contact between the two parties, stating the 59-year-old “would ponder his decision.”

However, that is one move that will not be happening. Osorio informed Blu Radio there has been no contact from the 13-time league champions. “There is no rapprochement,” he told the Colombian media outlet.

Osorio remains the only manager to lead the Red Bulls to an MLS Cup final.

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Why would anyone care about soccer once the true sport of kings comes a-calling? Former New York manager Hans “Hasse’’ Backe is devoting more and more time to horse racing, which is understandable considering his recent success. The Swede’s “superhorse’’ Greenshoe is worth roughly $15 million, having already been put out to stud across the world. The magic of artificial insemination allows his offspring to prosper as far off as Finland.

Backe owns eight of the magnificent beasts, though none are as incredible as the prized pony. “I think there are a lot of similarities [between soccer and horse racing],” he told Expressen. “The coach is the boss in the stable with his employees… Take for example the whole organization with the office staff and more, how do they work to get everyone to pull in the same direction? I have worked a lot with that and also got to work with high-profile players. There are guaranteed to be high-profile people in a stable and how do you work to handle them and to get them to create a strong foundation?”

Backe is already looking forward to celebrating the victories of Greenshoe’s offspring, who should be dominating your local track in the near future.

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

It sounds like the former manager has horses in the Backe.

Thank you, Rose. There’s no such thing as an outdated pop culture reference, regardless of how nonsensical the delivery.

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