As the commerce of global football moves deeper and deeper into the internet age, contracts and transfers have taken on an increasing level of ceremony and fanfare that sometimes distorts the actual importance of such matters both on the field and in the grand scheme of things. With the financial stakes of the sport tightening, news cycles shortening, and the appetite for sweet, sweet content growing, transfer windows have increasingly rivaled tournaments and trophies as the cathartic moments of fate for a club in the eyes of fans and media — this site’s content being a rather indulgent example.
But in the web of roster regulation and salary-capping that structures Major League Soccer, it’s understandable that this ritualistic wire-watching takes on a deeper fervor. As North America heads into the holiday season, a special date marked by the league’s fans has come for each of its clubs over recent days as clubs fulfill their obligation to announce their annual end-of-season contract decisions. On Wednesday the New York Red Bulls offered their gift to hawk-eyed fans and anxious blog editors alike, announcing a somewhat consequential list of moves that will nonetheless not be remembered in a few months time and may even be reversed before the team returns to training in January.
Here are some of the…uhh, highlights…of this season’s contract decision day in Harrison.
Coronel signed permanently; Fabio leaves…?
The centerpiece of Wednesday’s fanfare was the permanent signing of Carlos Coronel, who by a general consensus was the team’s MVP performer during a defense-driven season. The Brazilian who Gerhard Struber said he “fought” to get to New York after their work together at Red Bull Salzburg, had been loaned with an option to make his second MLS stay (after a stint with Philadelphia in 2019) permanent. The Red Bulls exercised that option, to the thankful sighs of relief of nearly all observers.
But the New York tenure for Coronel’s popular compatriot Fábio Gomes appears to be ending. The 6’4” striker, who scored multiple clutch goals for the team during an otherwise-inconsistent season on loan from Brazilian lower division side Oeste FC, saw an option for either a loan extension or permanent transfer declined. The 24-year-old made an Instagram post on Wednesday that appeared to hint at a possible renegotiation by telling fans his exit is not a “goodbye” but a “see you later.” But such sentiments are likely a product of politeness and generous translation, and the lanky forward returns to his homeland with Oeste now in the third division and unlikely to be able to retain his services. Meanwhile the Red Bulls have been linked to similar target forwards such as Sandro Kulenovic and Sebastián Sosa Sánchez in recent months.
Royer exits; Davis near return?
After a year or two of talk about whether the veteran Austrian attacker should have been traded or cashed out, Daniel Royer will be leaving the Red Bulls as a free agent. Much like Aaron Long (whose option for 2022 was unsurprisingly picked up on Wednesday), Royer had been expected by his countryman Gerhard Struber to be a key veteran mentor to his young squad before injury stole his season. With a thigh injury keeping Royer out of the team for most of the summer, he did not score at all in 15 appearances for the Red Bulls in 2022, though he leaves the club as its fourth all-time scorer in the league with 39 since his arrival in 2016.
Royer (as well as Belgium-bound Kyle Duncan) received the most expressive farewell of the players definitively leaving the club, part of which was a video message from Sean Davis.
TO: Danny Royer— New York Red Bulls (@NewYorkRedBulls) December 1, 2021
FROM: Sean Davis pic.twitter.com/on2M5pZTpU
This would normally be a perfectly intuitive tribute from the squad captain to a respected veteran on his amicable departure — except Davis was also declared to be out of contract by the Red Bulls on Wednesday. The club said in their press release that they’re in talks with Davis about returning, and the academy product’s continued participation in club media would appear to be a positive sign for those discussions.
Meanwhile, on-loan English defender Tom Edwards — who has seen opportunities re-appear at his boyhood club Stoke City — was nonetheless also described by the club as in touch about a potential return. Also in officially-declared talks about returning is obscure autumn free agent signing Issiar Dramé, a French center back who has apparently not performed in a manner commensurate with the terms of his previously-agreed option year.
Fate of featured players unclear
Unlike Davis, Edwards and Dramé, the Red Bulls gave no such hint that Andrew Gutman or Youba Diarra will return next year.
OaM had recently learned that Diarra in particular had been a player the club was interested in returning, with his one-time Salzburg reserves manager Gerhard Struber frequently raving about the Malian defensive midfielder’s talents despite chronic injuries limiting his minutes. With Diarra, like Coronel, on the books of an ostensibly-friendly sibling club, his return is perhaps possible even after the lapsing of his current MLS terms. Perhaps Diarra makes a surprise return to preseason like Marc Rzatkowski did after his Salzburg-New York loan expired in between the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
Gutman’s release comes on far less amenable turf. Though the Illinois-born left back was acquired by the Red Bulls largely through negotiations with Celtic FC, the Scottish league giants who held Gutman’s contract, his MLS rights had been acquired months earlier by New York’s conference rivals Atlanta United. The result was a strange arrangement where Gutman was signed by the Red Bulls on loan from a team in the same league who he had never trained with.
Gutman had a fine season in New York, contributing occasional goals to go with his versatile defensive play. But with Atlanta in a rebuild under new manager Gonzalo Pineda and incumbent left back George Bello on the radar of European clubs, Gutman becomes a more prized commodity worthy of playing hardball for. Such a situation was a risk Kevin Thelwell and the Red Bulls chose to take when signing Gutman on the eve of a season where the team didn’t have an obvious starting left back, but the emergence of charismatic academy product John Tolkin makes the void on the left side of defense not quite as large as the one vacated by Duncan and Edwards on the right. Also still around at the position is Jason Pendant, though the Frenchman who was largely exiled from the first team following Gerhard Struber’s arrival will likely be shopped on the loan market ahead of 2022.
Misfits moved on
But unlike Pendant, the club had some pleasant surprises on similar expensive misfits. English defender Mandela Egbo officially leaves the club after two-year tenure in which the 24-year-old only briefly saw extended first team action at the end of 2020 before spending most of this year in USL as a relative veteran with the reserves. Also released was Mathias Jørgensen, the Danish youth international striker signed for a seven-digit transfer fee in early 2019 before disappointing in New York at first team level. The now-21-year-old Jørgensen, who saw rotation minutes with the USL reserves after returning from an unsuccessful loan back in home country with AGF Aarhus, expressed wishes in a social media message that his time in New York had worked out better, but also that he feels he wasn’t given enough of a chance to turn things around with playing time.
Goalkeeper shuffle continues underneath Coronel
A different relatively pricey misfit Danish signing will be returning for now in the form of goalkeeper David Jensen. The 29-year-old has been on loan with Belgian second division outfit KVC Westerlo since the summer and could see another short-term arrangement back in Europe while his MLS contract unwinds, but for now joins Carlos Coronel, youngster AJ Marcucci, and the still-here Ryan Meara as the club’s senior keepers.
Departing the Red Bulls goalkeeping corps will be Luca Lewis, the local product who never kept hold of a starting role with the reserves after signing last year from Italian club Torino.
Less surprising options picked up
The loan of Uruguayan defender Lucas Monzón has been renewed after brief cameos at the end of 2021 and before a season where he will likely pick up some of the left-footed defensive slack left by Andrew Gutman’s exit. New York fans will be glad to hear that Bronx native Omir Fernandez, who became an unlikely offensive catalyst as the team improved its form in the fall, had his option for 2022 picked up by the club. Fellow young attacking midfielder Wikelman Carmona, who was first linked with Leipzig before being funneled to New York to begin his senior career with a mostly-quiet 25 appearances in 2021, was on a single-year MLS rookie deal. But no need to worry, the Venezuelan’s contract option for 2022 was picked up by the Red Bulls. As we know, that means all is done and dusted with the team’s latest prized young South American playmaker.