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Red Bulls Round-Up: February 6, 2021

Mathias Jørgensen starts on the bench for Aarhus, Gerhard Struber earns praise from his old boss, and the Red Bulls plant their academy flag in Albany

SOCCER: OCT 10 MLS - New York Red Bulls at Atlanta United FC Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome to the Red Bulls Round-Up presented by Once a Metro.

The transfer window is always an interesting time for me. I see all of these players moving, changing their lives, doing something new. I look inward and wonder, “What am I doing with my life? Would I have the courage and wherewithal to pick up everything and move halfway across the world to a new location?” The answer is a resounding “no chance,” so perhaps followers of the sport should be a little kinder to those struggling to immediately adjust to an unfamiliar environment, one in which they are expected to succeed at a competitive and challenging task.

Here’s this week’s top story.

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With the resumption of the Superliga season, Mathias Jørgensen spoke with TV3 SPORT. The full seven-minute interview is worth a watch if you speak Danish, which I do not. However, the channel was kind enough to share a few snippets in writing.

“I was happy to be abroad and it is two years I will never forget or regret,” said the on-loan striker. “When things closed down in March, and my significant other had to fly home to Denmark, and I could not get a visit from the family, it started to be too much.”

AGF kicked off 2021 against Vejle BK with a scoreless draw. Jørgensen did not appear and was not in the roster. The next match is Sunday, February 8th against SønderjyskE Fodbold.

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The New York Red Bulls announced the creation of an Academy Affiliate Program, partnering with multiple local clubs “to improve the player identification and the development of elite youth level players.” One organization is Black Watch Premier, pleasingly abbreviated to BWP. The Albany-based setup was added to the MLS Elite Youth Development Program in August and recently “announced plans to build an athletic complex at SUNY Schenectady.”

“Going through the interview process – it was a long process – I wondered every day if this could be real,” Black Watch president and CEO Steve Freeman told The Daily Gazette. “Red Bull accepted us, and MLS approved it. This is everything I could want for our club.”

MLS is currently undergoing a massive shift at the youth level after moving away from the Development Academy. Local clubs can be a minefield of political problems, but their powerful fiefdoms remain influential in American soccer, providing an introduction to the game and access to large swaths of the population. Partnership with these organizations will be beneficial in the short and long-term, likely yielding the next Homegrown stars.

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There’s some praise for Gerhard Struber from a former boss. After signing Daryl Dike on loan from Orlando City, Barnsley CEO Dane Murphy spoke with MLSSoccer.com about everything Tykes. The American discussed the Red Bulls current manager in glowing terms.

“We had a very good coach and a great person,” Murphy told Charles Boehm. “He is so good with younger players and keeping the temperature of the team where it needs to be. Not once last year did he falter in saying, ‘We’re going to stay in the league,’ even when it looked impossible… The New York Red Bulls fan base and the club is going to get a guy who will put everything he can into it.”

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Former Red Bulls assistant C.J Brown has a new job. The Fire legend was named the technical director and head coach of the yet-to-be-named Chicago club in the National Independent Soccer Association. The organization is set to begin its inaugural season in August of 2021.

“I will put my heart and soul into making this team successful on the field and into this amazing community,” Brown told the club’s official website. “We hope to complement the youth clubs, academies, and amateur leagues that we have here in Chicago, as a pathway for players to achieve their goals as soccer players… I am truly and honored to be back in the city that I love.”

Brown was added to Chris Armas’ staff in July of 2018. The Oregon native was not retained last September when the former manager was dismissed. He is now returning to his “family’s home” and considers being hired “a dream.”

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When you get drafted, everyone wants to talk to you. AJ Marcucci was interviewed by The Day, New London, Connecticut’s leading daily newspaper. The third-round selection shared his hopes for beginning his professional career.

“To get a contract is really the biggest goal,” Marcucci told writer Gavin Keefe. “I’m going to always be prepared and ready to go. My goal is, if not to make the MLS team, then to make the second team and get games and time there and show myself. Then hopefully in a few years or so, I’ll hopefully have a shot at the No. 1 (job) in New York.”

The Connecticut College graduate finds it “crazy” that he is going to play soccer but is “grateful for the opportunity.” This fall, Marcucci took steps to make the dream a reality, playing with local club West Chester United, “working out with other professional goalies, and training with the Philadelphia Union goalkeeper coach.” Training camp won’t be easy, but he appears to fully grasp the potential of the moment.

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Marcucci’s predecessor Wallis Lapsley also found a new home. The 23-year-old joined FC Tucson in advance of the 2021 USL League One season. Head coach John Galas is “delighted to welcome [him] to the club” and believes he “has all the tools to be a great goalkeeper.”

Lapsley was drafted by the Red Bulls in the second round of the 2020 MLS SuperDraft, signing with the reserve team. He made 11 appearances in the USL Championship and notched two shutouts. The club opted to decline his option at the end of the season.

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A long time ago, the Red Bulls were connected to Sead Hakšabanović, a building crescendo of rumors over the month of January that ended with the popping of a balloon. The transfer fee was determined to be too high, despite interest from the player in moving. As the Allsvenskan’s winter transfer window drew to a close, all eyes turned to Norrköping, wondering if the Swedish-Montenegrin playmaker would be leaving.

According to Ola Gustavsson of Fotboll Direkt, Hakšabanović was considered “one of the most likely players” to be sold at the last hour. The 21-year-old could “receive big money” in the form of a transfer fee. Did he leave his club for the desired “over $5 million” transfer fee?

No, he did not.

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A litt-le gos-sip, a litt-le chat, a litt-le idle talk of this and that. (Ron and Fez, noon to three.)

Since his option was declined at the end of the 2020 season, not a peep has been heard from Marc Rzatkowski. Not an echo or a murmur of a transfer, until… a few days ago. We giddily head now to the Scottish internet.

Rumors of a move for the 30-year-old German midfielder surfaced in the bowels of the castle that is the Jambos Kickback message board, dedicated to the discussion of Heart of Midlothian. Registered user Ainsley Harriot shared this intel: “Hearing Marc Rzatkowski is a midfielder we have spoken to that is a recent free agent so may join after today’s deadline.” The club was relegated from the Scottish Premiership last season, but is currently unbeaten in the Championship and on pace for an easy promotion.

Upon hearing this rumor, user maroon quipped the following: “Was brilliant in monsters inc. However, feel he is too small for the championship and only having one eye could make things difficult.” The Junior Member of the forum is, of course, making a humorous reference to the character Mike Wazowski of the Monsters, Inc. franchise, with whom Rzatkowski’s name rhymes.

So help me, I laughed. Let’s hang around in Scotland for a bit but head north.

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Another Red Bulls-adjacent player who did not make a move this week is Ambroise Oyongo. The former Red Bull was connected by L’Équipe to Hatayspor in the Turkish Süper Lig. However, Montpellier and the player declined the move because “he feels good” in his current situation.

Oyongo is currently on the outs at the Ligue 1 side. The 29-year-old Cameroon international has made 13 appearances this season but only two in the last ten matches. His current contract lasts through June of 2022, so it’s possible there will be a transfer this summer.

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One day you’re the cock of the walk, the next, a feather duster.

Anderlecht manager Vincent Kompany may have a new first-choice right back. Michael Murillo was once the favorite son, but a new challenger has emerged in the form of 18-year-old Killian Sardella. The Belgian youth international has started six of the club’s last seven matches, forcing the former Red Bull to the bench.

According to Voetbalkrant, Kompany might be experiencing some frustration. In a recent match, the former Manchester City defender reportedly sighed out loud, saying, “We’re playing with nine,” after instructing Murillo into the proper positioning following a red card to Kemar Lawrence. With the club currently focused on shoring up the defensive side, the more attacking fullback is reportedly viewed as a temporary tactical albatross.

Good thing Murillo’s contract only lasts until… 2025. It’s fine. I’m sure this will pass, and my dad will eventually like me as much as my siblings.

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Former manager Jesse Marsch had a chat with The Coaches’ Voice (“The Inside View of Football”), providing insight into his journey and the Red Bulls system. He discussed the importance of vertical play, such as “immediately” moving the ball forward and other tactical tidbits. During the talk, the Salzburg man had nothing but praise for center back Aaron Long.

“He chose to come to us, and trusted us,” said Marsch of the converted midfielder. “He learned how to play center-half. We taught him our mentality. Now he’s captain of the U.S. national team.”

Long’s “growth mentality” and “commitment to the process” were also highlighted. The club batted away any and all interest in the recent transfer window, desiring to build around the American defender. Marsch was recently connected to the Borussia Mönchengladbach job, demonstrating how managers can flit from team to team with nary a care in the world, while players are expected to chain their short careers to a single organization that will demand everything before eventually discarding them.

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Do you remember Braeden Cloutier? Of course you do. The midfielder played for the MetroStars in 1997, making 17 appearances. Following that season, he went on loan with the Wichita Wings of the indoor National Professional Soccer League and was traded to the San Jose Earthquakes for a second-round selection in the 1998 MLS College Draft. That pick became Joe Munoz who appeared in one (1) career match.

Cloutier proceeded to have an interesting journeyman career, playing in MLS, the A-League, the PDL, and multiple indoor leagues. Now, the 46-year-old manages Orange County SC of the USL Championship, a role he assumed in December of 2017 after three seasons as an assistant. The Irvine based club finished last year in third place in the Western Conference but should be one of the favorites heading into 2021.

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There continues to be fallout from İstanbul Başakşehir’s walk-off against Paris Saint-Germain in December’s Champions League fixture. According to France Football, assistant Pierre Webo claims former opposition manager and current Chelsea gaffer “blamed” the players for what happened. With which former Red Bull was this information shared?

“[Tuchel told Fredrik Gulbrandsen] he felt everything had been engineered from Turkey,” said Webo. “When Fredrik told me that, I thought, ‘That is not normal. It is impossible for that to have come from him.’ It really surprised me… There was a lack of solidarity on his part.”

It has been nearly two months since the fixture was completed, a 5-1 win by PSG. Tuchel has denied the accusation. UEFA continues to investigate the allegation as to whether the fourth official used racist language toward Webo.

Outside of this story, Gulbrandsen continues to earn playing time for Boz Baykuşlar (The Gray Owls), featuring in 27 matches this season. He’s scored nine goals across all competitions. However, despite regular playing time in the Süper Lig, the Norwegian attacker has failed to find the back of the net since January 6th against relegation-threatened Büyükşehir Belediye Erzurumspor.

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Former Red Bull Johnny Gilkerson appeared on the Fan2Fame show. The defender, who claims he was “a better basketball player” than soccer, was drafted by New York with the 35th pick in the 2008 MLS Supplemental Draft. He spent part of his rookie and only season on loan with the Richmond Kickers but did appear in the 2-0 Open Cup loss to Crystal Palace Baltimore.

Gilkerson shared that the toughest player to defend was, of course, Juan Pablo Ángel. “He is a legend in MLS,” the 35-year-old told host Lin Huynh. “Even at the age of 36, the dude was still fit, still looking like a stallion, still putting in the work, even as a superstar. Most superstars that make it can kind of take off the pedal, but, I mean, he was the leader on and off the field. He’s a guy that would come to practice before everyone got there and be the last one to leave, cutting out the lights every single day.”

The Winthrop alum credited Ángel for taking him under his wing, providing life and sporting advice. After his release, Gilkerson played with the Carolina RailHawks and NSC Minnesota Stars. Following retirement, he joined the Air Force and currently works with CPS Soccer Academy alongside former Red Bulls Caleb Patterson-Sewell and Michael Palacio.

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Former Red Bull Carlos Rivas was looking for a new team, and he found one! The Colombian attacker signed for Alianza Petrolera of the Categoría Primera A, with the club announcing his acquisition in a Twitter post. This was surely a good move for the 26-year-old after leaving Deportivo Cuenca in December.

Except… apparently they were just kidding. A few days later, Petrolera shared an official press release that Rivas would not be joining the club for the 2021 season. According to Gente, Pasion, y Futbol, he “did not pass the medical tests.” And that was the end of that.

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Pull out that passport. A former reserve team player is heading abroad!

Roy Boateng inked a contract with Santa Lucia Football Club of the Maltese Premier League. The Ghanaian defender heads to the Mediterranean island nation in search of fame and fortune, his option recently declined by Red Bulls II. He was originally selected by the club with the 16th overall pick in the 2019 SuperDraft.

St. Lucia is located in Santa Luċija, a village in the Southern Region of Malta with a population of 2,954. The club is currently in seventh place with 25 points from 18 matches, a safe distance from the relegation zone. The recently promoted side places a priority on the development of “physical, technical, and tactical talent” and endeavors to be “an icon for Maltese football.”

Here’s a joke that was submitted by Penelope of Edison.

Boateng is moving to Malta? That transfer sounds like a whopper.

Thank you, Penelope. The popular confectionery known as Whoppers is malted milk balls, and Boateng is signing for a club in Malta. Malted, Malta, that’s not a stretch.

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