While the New York Red Bulls were prolific in the last offseason, making a dozen first team signings, the amount of transfers made on a temporary loan basis certainly limited some of the excitement around such an active window. Reasoned by sporting chief Kevin Thelwell as a “try-before-you-buy” approach dealing with younger players in many cases making their first foreign transfer in the midst of a pandemic, several of these players have indeed settled and become key first team contributors.
Tom Edwards, Fábio, Carlos Coronel, Andrew Gutman, and Youba Diarra will all see their contracts lapse after the season. Teenage prospect Caden Clark has technically been on loan from RB Leipzig since the summer following a pre-transfer deal, but Kevin Thelwell noted in an interview with MSG recently that the Minnesotan could potentially remain in New York for another season before being tested in the Bundesliga. Summer signing Lucas Monzón is set to remain on an 18-month deal, but his presence in the team still hangs in the balance with what the team decides to do with multiple other on-loan defenders.
Thelwell comes from a Premier League environment that sometimes feel as if it exists in the all-you-can-eat-and-never-get-full purgatory experienced by Daniel Miller in Defending Your Life. But unlike Miller, Thelwell is alive and conscious that in his personal Judgment City of Major League Soccer, the salary cap and cumbersome contract terms prevent him from having everything on the menu. He has some tough decisions to make with his exacting head coach Gerhard Struber this winter on a variety of players with varying first team status, price tags, and parent club scenarios.
With the extended break before this group sees the fate of what could be their only season in New York decided in the playoffs, the OaM staff broke down their thoughts on who should should stick around and who should be let go heading into 2022.
Tom Edwards (Stoke City)
Ross Haley: The Red Bulls dipped into England and found quite versatile defender, who also displayed a fearless take-on-all-comers mentality. While his influence dwindled down the stretch, Edwards fills a massive void once Kyle Duncan leaves for Europe this winter. The Englishman could have an entire season at fullback, dispensing crosses and long throw-ins with shocking accuracy.
Does Edwards want to return? Would Stoke send him back across the pond? If both of those answers are “yes,” then the Red Bulls should grasp a known quality and plug him into the back line.
John Perdicaro: Tom Edwards is the Roy Kent of Red Bull, he’s played defensive mid, left back, right back, center back. He’s here, he’s there, he’s every fucking where. He’s had his fair share of rough patches but has become a important piece to the Struber tactics.
Juan Mesa: Going to lean no. Good utility player for the defense, with a good sense for long balls, but he came to the team billed as fullback, a position where he hasn’t shone.
Brit Byrd: While he’s been much more frustrating once moving away from the two striker set-up, I’m still bullish on his ability to pull defenders out of space and surprise them with his speed and dribble. Whether or not we bring him back (or sign a similar player) could be a signal for our 2022 tactics.
Ross Haley: After some matches, he should have been signed to a permanent deal while walking off the field — others, less so. The ideal situation would be to loan the Brazilian striker from Oeste in perpetuity, never fully taking responsibility for his transfer, allowing the move to exist in Schrodinger’s box while avoiding deeper scrutiny. An undecided spot in the formation and inconsistent performances beget a nebulous contract situation, but perhaps the old adage of “maybe means no” rings true.
Juan Mesa: His production in 2021 doesn’t match his efforts, but that could be tied to the team creative issues in the midfield. He is versatile and team has built a project with him around.
Carlos Coronel (Red Bull Salzburg)
JJ Post: The Brazilian has played near or at a MLS goalkeeper of the year level all season and has been vital in keeping New York in games they’re down in and ahead in games they’re looking to close out. Coronel is a top level player at a crucial position, and should be one of the Red Bulls top priorities in the offseason.
Lenz Ong: As a proud card-carrying member of the goalkeeper’s union, I am undoubtedly biased, but he’s overcome a bit of a patchy start to life in New York to blossom into arguably the team’s signing of the season. Not only is it the shot stopping, which has been a big factor in the team’s rock solid defensive record in the closing months of the season, the long ball distribution has also mostly come as advertised, giving Coronel an added dimension that has otherwise been lacking from his predecessors, and his counterparts on the team. It’s for this alone that this is a no brainer in my book, and I would like to go on record that I am becoming Red Bull Out if Salzburg hold on to him.
Ross Haley: Did you know that Marlon Brando was almost cast as Father Merrin (the older priest) in The Exorcist? What an unbelievable end to the film that would have been, seeing one of the all-time great actors bombastically perform the exorcism of Regan MacNeil. Instead, director William Friedkin went with the understated Max von Sydow, whose performance was and is incredible.
The Red Bulls have a great goalkeeper. They should stick with him instead of trying to fix something that already works. His play is already reaching Luis Robles’ levels despite being “a Salzburg back-up.”
Andrew Gutman (Atlanta United)
Ben Cork: Feels especially difficult right now to judge how Atlanta will act in the event of a transfer attempt, so will evaluate strictly through an on-field lens…a fairly flattering one. Gutman provides the confident ball control and tenacious vertical defensive play (and even occasional goalscoring) that Struber’s system requires from fullbacks, and adapting those talents to a wide center back role in recent months has only added to his value. While John Tolkin’s emergence has meant a battle for left back minutes in some circumstances, a team cannot expect to compete for trophies with any position staffed with a lone teenager.
After finding an entry to Europe difficult, Gutman appears to be settling into a career as an above-average player in an improving MLS. Unless there is another can’t-miss left back from overseas waiting in the wings, he is an emerging veteran worth building around.
Lenz Ong: There are some clear limitations to his game, but ultimately, Gutman has provided competent defense at left back and left centre-back in the team’s 4 or 5 at the back formations. He’s a domestic player on top of that, which helps build his case further. Truly, if 5 at the back is to be a frequent feature going forward, there is inherent value at rostering a young domestic talent like Gutman even if it is in a squad rotation/backup capacity due to the flexibility that he provides.
The only thing stopping this from being a hard yes is how much Atlanta will be asking for him in order to make him permanent, and the fact that John Tolkin’s breakout season has made the left side of the backline of less concern than the right side. Still, I think taking him on if the price is right will be a boon to the depth chart in any case.
Juan Mesa: Gutman is a good defender, which has been good for the 3/5-man back lines recently, but he doesn’t provide much to the attack as a full back or wing back. His crossing is extremely erratic.
Youba Diarra (Red Bull Salzburg)
Ross Haley: If the skilled midfielder played this season, the Red Bulls would have been significantly higher up the table. Talent has never been in question, merely his injury avoidance. Bringing Diarra back would be a gamble that has been lost by multiple clubs.
Ben Cork: While it’s confirmation bias on some level or another seeing as I’ve become fascinated with Youba Diarra and his phantom importance to this year’s team, he really has been impressive in the limited minutes of his late season encore. Every incisive tackle, understated pass out of traffic, and nearly-earned penalty makes my obsession feel less and less ironic.
While giving a permanent deal to a relatively expensive physio table VIP would be ill-advised on paper, it would certainly be a bold statement of the club’s selective taste in talent and patience with said talent’s development. More importantly, it would also be pretty funny.
Brit Byrd: Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.
Lucas Monzón (Danubio)
Juan Mesa: He seems promising and with a high ceiling. I also said no to Edwards and Gutman, fullbacks that had featured as center backs, so you do the math.
Lenz Ong: Andres Reyes and Sean Nealis’ development under the tutelage of this coaching staff this season bodes well for Monzon. Ultimately, if he displays the same ability to cover big amounts of space and distribute the ball in extended minutes as he does in his highlight reel, I feel that he’s going to be someone you’d want to lock down, and eventually include a big sell-on clause for.
Caden Clark (RB Leipzig)
John Perdicaro: I think he’s 100% getting loaned to New York again next year from Leipzig. He started the season strong, but that appendix surgery basically has him starting from square one. But he’s shown in the last few weeks he’s still talented, and I think he can learn more from Struber before he heads to Germany and meets up with Adams and Marsch.
JJ Post: Honestly this month will probably be a far more important factor in the decision for Clark than anything we saw before the Leipzig transfer was made official. He started off the season red hot, looking every bit the part of the hyped future star he showed glimpses of in his first season. Then he slowly cooled off into a solid MLS first-eleven player over the summer. And then he was dropped almost completely for half of the fall portion of the campaign. He did impress as a sub when given the chance against Montreal in what turned out to be a postseason-clinching win, and if he’s able to stay in the lineup for a solid playoff run and continue his form then I can see him continuing his plans to spend 2022 abroad.
Ross Haley: The teenager is one of the most naturally talented players in the league, demonstrating abilities most teammates and opponents simply do not possess. However, despite his superior pressing and penchant for big moments, Clark might not actually be a fit for Struber’s particular vertical attacking style. Judging his potential impact is difficult because his surgery rehabilitation overlapped with the Red Bulls’ rapid fall and rise. The club should attempt to acquire every accessible, young talent that meets the tactical demands, but perhaps his potential and development would be best served elsewhere.