Two weeks ago the New York Red Bulls earned some backhanded plaudits after pulling off what many felt was a contender for the most MLS transaction of all time. Andrew Gutman, an American left back with Scottish Premiership giants Celtic FC, was loaned to the Red Bulls by Atlanta United...a team he had never played for but had acquired his contract from Celtic...after having acquired his MLS rights from FC Cincinnati...who he played with on loan from Celtic last year.
Despite the appetizing talent of the former Hermann Trophy winner, there was a deflating air to the signing given that all that paperwork still leaves Gutman as only a temporary asset for the club. In the event he does well and seeks a permanent stay with the Red Bulls, a messy negotiation with a significant league rival in Atlanta will likely ensue. It’s also especially strange when the Red Bulls seemingly had access to a homegrown left back leaving a similar level in Europe in United States under-20 international Chris Gloster (pictured above), then on his way out at Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven. But if the events of Monday surrounding Gloster are any omen, the MLS roster regulations gods might be smiling on Harrison more than it may appear.
As you’ve probably heard by now, former Red Bulls academy standout Gloster has made the decision to come back to his hometown...to play for New York City FC. For the trouble of losing the contract rights to Gloster, who had never played a single minute for the club (beyond teenage reserve cameos in USL), the Red Bulls were handed a $100k allocation money package that could eventually be quadrupled by performance clauses. It’s certainly fair for a Red Bulls fan to have an initial pang of disappointment - the 20-year-old left back from Montclair had been one of the more heralded recent prospects from the Red Bulls youth setup, earning youth national team call-ups and expected offers of an MLS contract as he approached his 18th birthday.
But Gloster chose, as more and more American footballers are in recent years, to pursue opportunities offered in Europe. After spending a year in the reserves at German Bundesliga side Hannover 96, Gloster had hoped to make his professional breakthrough in a move to PSV. However, the latter club’s storied tradition of developing and selling talented youth internationals that surely beckoned Gloster to Eindhoven quickly shifted into the reason for his departure - it was becoming a problem that Gloster was, by their standards, no longer jong. As the writing began appearing on the wall for Gloster in the Netherlands, the expectation was that the Red Bulls would be at the front of the line for Gloster’s services, and according to reports in December this seemed to be the case. But for whatever reason, despite the new Red Bulls’ regime’s interest in young Americans on the fringes of Europe, an agreement between Gloster and his previous club was never reached.
Instead, the Red Bulls put their energy into the far more difficult and temporary signing of Gutman. Perhaps Red Bulls sporting chief Kevin Thelwell and head coach Gerhard Struber simply rate the hell out of the Indiana University product whose departure appeared to disappoint Cincinnati fans. But his acquisition required some of the most extravagant transactional gymnastics ever seen in the often perplexing world of MLS roster building. Whatever difficulties lied in the Rube Goldberg device that ended with Gutman in East Hanover last week were somehow easier (or more potentially rewarding) to overcome than whatever obstacles were in the way of a reunion with Gloster.
Which brings up the subject of Gloster’s attitude towards the Red Bulls setup and Major League Soccer in general. Gloster had claimed upon signing with PSV that he saw better opportunities for professional minutes in Europe than in MLS and was quoted in an interview just two months ago that MLS was essentially beneath him and not something he was interested in doing until he was “close to retirement.” Obviously Gloster’s mind has changed in the weeks since those comments (and a bizarre, legally-impossible attempt to sign with Newcastle United of the English Premier League) but not soon enough to revive any hope of a move to his hometown Red Bulls. Was this because of residual bitterness from Gloster surrounding his past time with the Red Bulls setup? Was it because of his past comments running afoul of Kevin Thelwell’s “no dickheads” recruitment policy? Was it simply because Gloster had his heartstrings tugged by NYCFC manager Ronny Deila’s pitiful plea earlier this month for the club to sign enough players to run a training session?
Whatever the reasoning, the Red Bulls have landed a potential $400k in allocation money for a player who by all appearances was never going to play for the club and had the type of sour attitude about playing in MLS that a regime that emphasizes hunger and motivation in their signings would want to avoid. As seen with the recent departures such as Alex Muyl, Tim Parker, and even reserve fullback Patrick Seagrist, the British-born-and-trained Thelwell appears to be getting the hang of the American trade system and using it to his advantage. With one bizarre long-term exception still being haggled by MLS and the Saudi FA, there is suddenly a practice in Harrison of getting whatever value you can out of players you decide to move on from - a far cry from the recent past of Gonzalo Veron being left on the waiver draft list and Bradley Wright-Phillips being discarded to free agency. The saga of the the club’s search for a new left back this offseason has been yet another exhibition of how the New York Red Bulls finally have someone with a plan in charge again.