It was a somewhat poorly-kept secret, but Kyle Duncan’s future is finally set. The New York Red Bulls fullback whose MLS contract expires this winter has signed a pre-contract agreement to make a free transfer to KV Oostende in January.
The Belgian club is so excited about the signing, they went all the way back to the 90s for a reference to since-cancelled adult cartoon South Park as a clue to Kyle’s signing. Oostende, a provincial club from the slightly less funnily-named town of Ostend that has never won a trophy beyond second division promotion, currently sits 13th out of 18 teams in the Jupiler League first division and are likely to make the American international their first-choice right back.
Duncan’s four-year career in New York after joining as a preseason trialist in 2018 has had some pronounced peaks and valleys. After emerging as a quality rotational contributor during the early months of the 2018 Shield-winning campaign, the Brooklyn native (who left the Red Bulls academy for an unsuccessful stint at French club Valenciennes during his late teens) was sidelined partway through that season with a knee ligament injury.
Following a stuttered return to the first team in which he was an occasional standout for the otherwise-dire teams constructed by Chris Armas, Duncan had a breakout year in 2021 under new coach Gerhard Struber. Providing the bulk of the team’s offensive width on the right side, Duncan’s speed and dribbling flair made him a key figure on both sides of the ball in Struber’s demanding full-field pressing scheme. The exclamation point of Duncan’s importance to this year’s Red Bulls came with a left-footed finish from deep to secure a win over Nashville in June.
NY RED BULLS 2-0 NASHVILLE SC— Esto es MLS (@EstoesMLS) June 19, 2021
Llegó la primera derrota de @NashvilleSC. Nada pudo hacer ante un #RBNY desatado que ya es 3° del Este. GOLAZOS de FÁBIO , delantero recién llegado, y KYLE DUNCAN . Aquí os dejamos el del lateral estadounidense pic.twitter.com/M5ehGYugRP
Despite his improvement and apparent happiness with the new setup at the club, the lure of a return to Europe has proven too enticing for Duncan to pass up. Negotiations between the club and the fullback for a new contract were unsuccessful, and at 24 years old with a potential national team career to bolster, Duncan has decided to have another go at an arguably-higher level.
As for the future for the Red Bulls at right back, the situation is far from obvious. Loanee and Duncan’s platoon mate Tom Edwards has spent recent weeks whispering about a potential return to his parent club Stoke City, though OaM sources have indicated the Red Bulls would like to keep the Englishman long-term and are enquiring about such possibilities.
Meanwhile (not to go down nostalgia lane) the club’s most recent permanent right back signing Mandela Egbo made a cryptic announcement on social media Wednesday that appeared to imply his days in New York are over. This apparently ends a bizarre stint with the club in which the Crystal Palace product was trapped in the reserves despite a brief but promising run in the first team at the end of the 2020 and a defensive injury crisis for the Red Bulls in 2021.
But more likely is that New York head of sport Kevin Thelwell will turn his gaze towards his “crystal ball of doom” that any sporting executive must consult. Fullbacks are important to the system set up by Thelwell’s head coach Struber, and it can be expected that replacing Duncan and potentially Edwards will be high on the agenda this winter in Harrison.