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Sean Davis turns down new Red Bulls deal to leave as free agent

Holding midfielder had played every minute of 2021 for New York

MLS: New York City FC at New York Red Bulls
Sean Davis has decided to leave the New York Red Bulls.
Tom Horak-USA TODAY Sports

After seven seasons with the club, two of which as team captain, Sean Davis will be leaving the New York Red Bulls this offseason as a free agent. The club and the homegrown midfielder announced his departure in a social media post this afternoon.

The identity of the 28-year-old’s next club is unclear at the moment but the Red Bulls had been attempting to keep the veteran throughout the early weeks of the offseason. Sources indicate to OaM that New York had been in negotiations with Davis up until this week and had offered a three-year contract of maximum salary budget charge value below Designated Player status.

Such a contract would have been a pay bump well beyond the capped 15% raise that other MLS teams are allowed to offer Davis under league free agency rules, meaning the Freehold native will either be moving overseas or has chosen to move on within MLS for personal and/or footballing reasons rather than financial ones. Reports earlier this month indicated Davis had been in discussions with Vancouver, Orlando, and Nashville, including a confirmed in-person visit with the latter club.

Wherever the destination ends up being, the loss of the team’s captain will undoubtedly sting for a young Red Bulls side hoping to build on the momentum of 2021’s late season playoff rally. Davis ends his New York career with 172 league appearances after emerging from the club’s academy and joining the pro side after a stint at Duke University. He played every single minute of last season as a holding midfielder and key squad leader for Gerhard Struber, a manager who Davis had initially sensed skepticism from upon his arrival last year. Davis had praised Struber during the team’s late season unbeaten run as someone he and the squad “wanted to run through a wall for,” but the 28-year-old has chosen to take the plunge in another locker room and system for the latter stage of his professional career.

New York now goes back to the drawing board at holding midfield, where Davis had developed a stable partnership with Dru Yearwood after Struber spent the early part of his first season mixing and matching. Salzburg loanee Youba Diarra was pinpointed by Struber as his preferred option as a deep midfielder at the beginning of 2021 before chronic injuries re-appeared, and the Malian is currently still available himself following a trial at Spanish club Cádiz after being released by New York. Earlier this month the Red Bulls signed precocious reserve midfielder Daniel Edelman to a full MLS contract, with the teenager from Warren tipped by many to play a substantial first team role in 2022 even before today’s Davis news. The rumor mill has been quiet around Cristian Cásseres Jr, implying the Venezuelan international (who began his career as more of a deep midfielder before finding an attacking role in New York) is committed to the Red Bulls for 2022.

But yet again, the New York Red Bulls will be parting ways with their captain, though this time in a decision made more from the player’s end rather than the club’s. The length of New York’s negotiation implies Kevin Thelwell wanted to keep his team captain in place while he shores up other areas of the formation. But the opportunity to find a more precise fit in a key position of the team’s spine is perhaps a silver lining in the eyes of a sporting chief so focused on the future.