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Red Bulls Expert Guide: October 4, 2021

Frederik Alves discusses a New York bid, Oliver Mintzlaff (kinda) shoots down the Mario Gomez rumors, and Markus Schopp struggles at Barnsley in this week’s links

MLS - New York Red Bulls vs Houston Dynamo - July 5, 2007
Former Red Bull Markus Schopp is the latest rider on the Barnsley managerial carousel.
Photo by Thomas Shea/WireImage

Welcome to the Red Bulls’ Expert Guide presented by Once a Metro.

What’s your favorite concert that you’ve attended? I’m sure you can name some band, orchestra, or solo act that delighted your ears and perhaps eyes. Perhaps a true New York Red Bulls fan would name one of the club’s matches, citing the symphony of pressing and vertical attacking football that is more pleasing than any aria that could be composed by mortal minds.

Here’s this week’s top story.

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Transfer news tends to filter out a little later, in dribs and drabs.

According to an interview with Bold, the New York Red Bulls made an offer to West Ham for Frederik Alves over the summer. The Danish center back also had interest from Blackburn Rovers and “several other Championship clubs” but instead opted to go on loan at Sunderland in League One. A conversation with the manager steered him in the direction of Tyneside.

“[David] Moyes and I agreed that Sunderland was a better place for me to work,” said Alves (via Google Translate). “For every home game, there are about 30,000 spectators and I’m on a team that is not tight. We would like to be at the top of the league, and that would give me the opportunity for playing time and to get a positive start towards next season. The biggest reason is that I have to have some playing time and with the playing time the goal is that I have to have important experience and get to know English football.”

Alves joined West Ham last winter on a three-a-half-year deal, with Danish club Silkeborg receiving “just over a million pounds.” He made 12 reserve team appearances but could not get off the bench in the Premier League or FA Cup. This season, the 21-year-old has made four league and cup appearances. Some mild exasperation has been expressed with the slow integration process as the defender attempts to get up to speed mentally in Lee Johnson’s tactical system.

This appears to have all the trappings of a recent attempted move by the Red Bulls. Alves is a young center back of some notability, with a few youth international appearances and the required physical attributes. Head of sport Kevin Thelwell shops in the English market and was likely familiar with the player, before or after the move to West Ham. The club instead made moves for Lucas Monzón and Issiar Dramé.

Heading to Major League Soccer is a tough sell for many young players, especially on a loan. While at a higher level than League One, the physical distance can at times become a greater mental obstacle. If Alves fails to make an impact upon his eventual return to West Ham, perhaps the Red Bulls will take another run at him.

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KVC Westerlo keeps rolling. The top team in the Belgium second division notched a 2-0 win over Lommel S.K., owned by City Football Group. David Jensen started and earned a yellow card in the 89th minute. The Big Dane made a few nice saves, which is really what you want from someone at the goalkeeper position.

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Oliver Mintzlaff pushed back on a report that Mario Gomez will be the “head of soccer” at Red Bull Leipzig. However, the recently retired German striker was connected to a more global sporting director role, meaning that this may be a bit of a verbal shell game. You be the judge, with the next few months serving to appeal your decision.

“Mario Gomez is not going to be sports director,” said the head honcho of Red Bull football. “We didn’t even talk about it. Mario Gomez is basically an interesting personality for us because he is someone who has charisma, who has seen a lot, who has won the Champions League, who has gone through ups and downs.”

Those comments appear to center more on the role with Leipzig, which has been vacant since the departure of Markus Krösche and is set to be presented on January 1st “if possible.” Mintzlaff does not deny that he has spoken with Gomez, which is categorized as “general exchanges.” The former striker was connected by Bild to the global coordinator role, a wholly different position than what is being denied in the interview.

Stay tuned, I guess.

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Rutgers University and the New York Red Bulls are forming quite the mutually beneficial relationship. After all, many players have to go somewhere after the academy before ideally heading into the professional ranks. Why shouldn’t the local institutions of higher learning enjoy the propinquity?

“Having the relationship between the Red Bulls and Rutgers is nice to have,” said midfielder Matthew Acosta. “Being from both the New Jersey/New York area, it’s not very hard to transition from [the] Red Bulls to Rutgers. Knowing people coming here is an easier transition and it’s not as hard having somebody that you know to help you transition into this big school.”

Acosta made seven appearances for the reserves this season in the USL Championship before matriculating to Rutgers. The freshman has started in all ten matches for the 7-1-2 Scarlet Knights. Fellow Red Bulls academy graduate Nico Rosamilia has three goals and one assist.

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Attacker Cameron Harper appeared on the Tidal League FC podcast. He discussed his soccer journey, from California to Scotland and back to the United States. The 19-year-old admitted that the pandemic had a negative effect on his overall fitness.

“It’s definitely taken a little bit of a burden on my development,” Harper told host Katie Goodman. “It got to a point where in the last, maybe, year-and-a-half, I’ve only played a handful of full 90-minute games. You can work as hard as you can on the training ground, but you get your real development, I think, from playing in games and playing in situations where there’s mental stress on you. It’s not just, ‘Oh, I can miss this shot and it means nothing.’ There’s pressure on that, I think… Without that pressure, you don’t really develop mentally and physically and your skill. You need to come up big in these big moments, and that’s where really good players are made… Not being able to play those games has been a burden on my development, for sure.”

He also discussed his current situation at the Red Bulls. “It’s been my first full proper season in like a first-team environment, and you realize it’s different to youth,” said the former Celtic man. “It’s a very results-based business. Jobs are on the line, and you need to do your job… I’ve been struggling on and off with a few injuries the past few months. It’s kind of limited me in terms of getting that consistency… I feel like this last month-and-a-half when I came back from a little hip injury that didn’t bother me for a really, really long time, I was able to start communicating with my coaches, telling them, ‘Hey, I feel like I’m doing really good in training. I might need to get some game time either with [the] USL or with the MLS team, whatever you guys think is beneficial with me.’”

The hip injury “hindered” him from “performing his best” and required a long rest to go away. Harper also took a “good amount of time to acclimatize” to the tactical system of Gerhard Struber. Perhaps the most distressing revelation from the interview is that the teenager remains unimpressed with the New York pizza scene and is “fine with Papa John’s.”

Honestly, the whole interview is worth a listen. Harper is still very young, and this is his first year in a senior team. Perhaps there is more to come from the player.

***

Once upon a time, also known as ten years ago, Jimmy Maurer was selected by the Red Bulls with the fourth overall pick in the MLS Supplemental Draft. Unfortunately, he was unable to stick around, due to limited roster size. The goalkeeper discussed this early-career tenure on the Perfect Soccer Podcast.

“Back then, the rosters were smaller,” Maurer told host Quincy Amarikwa. “It was a different time, too… Teams were either carrying two or three [goalkeepers]. Then you had three or four pool goalkeepers. A lot of MLS teams were carrying [fewer] goalies because they would tap into the pool goalkeepers if they needed to. MLS teams didn’t have USL teams at the time. The USL was pretty condensed as well… There [weren’t] as many opportunities back then. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for me with the Red Bulls. [I] got released at the end of preseason. [It] ended up being a blessing in disguise.”

Maurer would, in fact, sign a one-match contract with New York in March of 2011 but would not play. He has gone on to have a long career, with stops at the Atlanta Silverbacks, Universidad de Concepción, the New York Cosmos, and now FC Dallas. He grabbed the starting job for the Hoops last season, a true testament to the drive and ability to overcome obstacles that are necessary to succeed in professional sports.

***

Former Red Bull Marc Rzatkowski is excited for his time at Schalke, describing Die Königsblauen as the “biggest” club of his career. He played half of a reserve team match against SV Straelen, which did “a world of good” for the veteran. The midfielder is realistic about what his skill set and role are at this point in his career.

“To do better is somehow my motivation,” said Rzatkowski. “I’m not going to be the new Leroy Sané now. I’m too old for that and maybe not quite the quality. But I would like to look back in a few years and be able to say, ‘Hey, I was part of a really great team that steered the club back in the right direction and then had players like that again.’”

Schalke is currently at fourth place in the second division.

***

With his club, FC Alashkert, competing in the UEFA Europa Conference League, the media wants to talk to Vincent Bezecourt. After two rounds, the team is at the bottom of Group A, but that hasn’t stopped the former Red Bull from enjoying the experience and giving another career retrospective. He even discussed his initial contract with New York.

“It wasn’t much,” said Bezecourt. “With that amount, you don’t even have accommodation. Fortunately, the club is obliged to accommodate us. I ended up in a house with four other players right next to the training center. It was really a superb experience.”

There was even a glowing assessment of a former teammate. “As soon as [Amir Murillo] arrived from Panama, we immediately saw that he had incredible technical and athletic abilities,” said the 28-year-old. “It was very hard to stop him. Defensively, he was a little wasteful at times but with the ball to the foot, he was very strong. We tried to press him because our game was based on very high pressure but he was able to get the ball out easily. I am not surprised that he made the big leap to Europe and that he is performing well in Anderlecht as well.”

Will Bezecourt be sticking around in Armenia past this season? Probably not because his “mother is unhappy” that he plays “at the other end of Europe.” The goal is to play in France or Spain after his contract ends “at the end of the year.”

***

Ralf Rangnick has some opinions on RB Leipzig. He commented on the move of former manager Julian Nagelsmann to Bayern Munich. Surprisingly, letting such a talent leave for a rival is viewed as less than ideal, particularly by the man who recruited him in the first place.

“We brought Julian in 2019 because we were convinced he would take us to the next level,” Rangnick said during commentary duties on DAZN program Decoded. “Then the biggest competitor in Germany gets into trouble when it comes to the coaching question, and you let him go for money. Money - I assume that - given the sales of Upamecano, Konaté or Sabitzer, is what RB would have needed least. I would certainly not have agreed and would have bailed FC Bayern out. I would have said quite clearly, even at an earlier point in time, ‘Take care Julian, no way, we still have an exciting time ahead of us and you [will] stay!’”

Bayern paid 25 million euros for the right to hire Nagelsmann. People tend to talk tough regarding what they would do in certain situations, but reality changes when actually experiencing the circumstances. Few can resist the siren’s call of the 31-time German champions.

***

Speaking of Germany, the international break will be a welcome one for Jesse Marsch. RB Leipzig is reeling after the midweek loss in the Champions League to Club Brugge, the “easy” opponent in a group featuring Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain. League form has improved with the club reaching a more comfortable eighth place

“We didn’t stick to the tactical plan,” said Marsch after the continental loss. “We played too hectically. When we make a tactical plan, we expect a better performance… The problem is: we are not constant. We either play very, very well or not well. We have to understand how to play each game with more rhythm and consistency. If we make a tactical plan, we expect better performances in every game.”

Norbert Wehrstedt was even less kind in his assessment of the performance. “Swiss cheese belongs on the table, not the [field],” wrote the veteran film and television critic. “Otherwise you have problems with the holes… In the search for lightness, lousiness came out.”

Regardless of his long tenure with the organization, Marsch needs time with this group of players. So far, Red Bull publicly supports the manager, seemingly understanding the desire and work required to bring Leipzig back to the high-octane press. The question remains, how many disappointing results will ownership tolerate?

A 3-0 win over VfL Bochum appears to have eased some of the tension, although certainly not all of it. “We are still completely convinced that the path we have taken with Jesse is the right one,” shared CEO Oliver Mintzlaff. “We are very, very dissatisfied with the yield and the lack of consistency.”

Keep an eye on a five-match stretch in November. Leipzig plays a difficult slate of Paris Saint-Germain, Borussia Dortmund, Hoffenheim, Club Brugge, and Bayer Leverkusen. With poor results, tolerance may wear a little thin, regardless of how much progress is being made on the training ground.

***

Times are also tough at Barnsley. The Tykes are in the relegation zone with eight points through 11 matches. Manager Markus Schopp has some opinions, of course.

“We could have a few more points,” the former New York Red Bull told Kronen Zeitung. “Unfortunately, I don’t have the players for this kind of game anymore. After the club gave up the established ones and decided to go young, Dominik Frieser is our oldest at the age of 27. We try to get the best out of it with limited resources. It’s a big challenge.”

The club is also dealing with some injury issues, exacerbated by England reducing the maximum amount of substitutions to three. However, please remember that this is Barnsley. The club endures, thrives, and then gets managers stolen.

***

Al-Taawoun lost to the recently promoted Al-Tai in the Saudi Professional League by a 2-1 margin. After seven matches, the winless Wolves are in last place with three points from seven matches. Kaku played 88 minutes and now heads off to international duty with Paraguay, currently at sixth in the CONMEBOL table, two points behind Colombia which occupies the inter-confederation playoff spot.

Upcoming fixtures include Argentina, Chile, and Bolivia. “We have to beat Argentina,” said Kaku on the Cardinal Deportivo radio programme. “I played once [in Bolivia]. It was complicated for me. They take advantage of that.”

Here’s a joke that was submitted by Millicent of Wanaque.

I can think of another place where it was complicated for Kaku to play: New York.

Thank you, Millicent. Your sarcasm is more refreshing than an autumn breeze but far more pleasant.

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