After a week in which his New York Red Bulls team was unable to complete planned friendly games, head coach Gerhard Struber met with the media and emphasized the need to focus even harder on training and preparation ahead of the rapidly-approaching 2021 season.
Struber, speaking to the New York press gallery for the first time without Red Bulls head of sport Kevin Thelwell acting as an emcee, helped to introduce new signings Andrew Gutman and Cameron Harper, both acquired from Celtic FC of Scotland. The Austrian offered some details of his plans for Gutman and Harper as well as his take on a preseason that has been more challenging than had already been expected.
“The situation is good but we need time and we need friendly games. Every friendly game, we’ve had to cancel. It was clear for us that we shouldn’t take a big risk but right now we have no game in bodies, we have no game in our brain and right now it’s not so sexy but we have to accept this and hope that we can play (on Saturday) against Miami.”
Despite the setbacks on getting game reps, there was good news on the still-precarious player onboarding front. Struber and the Red Bulls confirmed at the press conference that Brazilian forward Fábio Gomes Netto had arrived in Florida and was undergoing a quarantine period before joining teammates in training. Fábio would join defensive midfielder Youba Diarra, goalkeeper Carlos Coronel, and teenage attacker Wikelman Carmona as the most recent new arrivals at the club’s camp, with English fullback Tom Edwards appearing to be the last remaining first team signing awaiting full immigration and quarantine clearance to join up with the team.
Struber stated that, though disappointed to lose him during a key training period, he was excited to watch center back Aaron Long play in a veteran leadership role while away with the United States national team this week, and expressed hope that Long can play the same tone-setting role in the New York squad this year before turning to his some of his younger American talents.
Thanks to their citizenship, Andrew Gutman and Cameron Harper have been with the team since the earliest preseason sessions in East Hanover, but Friday marked their first official media comments since signing with New York. The duo, who briefly crossed paths during their respective stints in Glasgow with Celtic, expressed excitement about their arrivals and the Red Bull style of soccer that Struber specializes in.
Left-side defender Gutman said that he was “super excited” and encouraged his agent to get a deal done when he heard Red Bulls were interested, stating it was a “good team, good system” for him to play in. While his 2020 season on loan at FC Cincinnati was not a successful one from a wins-losses standpoint, Gutman stated that his game experience in MLS - on top of his training stints with Celtic - gave him a major “confidence boost” in the early stages of his professional career. Struber stated that the former Hermann Trophy winner gives his team “more options to play on the ground” and that he “has the speed and determination to break the last line” in an implication that fullbacks will carry much of the wide attacking load in his system.
Along those lines, it appeared through comments Friday from coach and player alike that Cameron Harper will likely take on a forward role with the Red Bulls. Listed mostly as a wide midfielder during his days in the reserves and fringe of the first team at Celtic, Harper and Struber both emphasized his dribbling skills and versatility.
Struber said Harper was a player with “many weapons” who could be trained to play centrally despite his natural tendencies to attack from wide. Harper expressed excitement at his training under Struber so far, stating that the tactical system being installed involves him “getting the ball higher up the field, where I only have to beat one or two guys” to create danger.
The 19-year-old Harper additionally remarked that he was excited for the role the Red Bulls could play in establishing himself as a professional. He said that conversations with Kevin Thelwell convinced him to sign with the Red Bulls despite late renewal offers from Celtic and that his development plan for Harper “was exactly what I was looking for” in the next stage of his career. While the Red Bulls have failed to live up to some of their reputation as a career-booster in recent years, the new regime being built by Thelwell and Struber continues to put the correct emphasis on the club’s developmental identity. Players are being targeted and acquired (even through some of the most convoluted means possible) rather than passively arrived at and value is being wrung out of more departing assets than in the past. While nothing is guaranteed in soccer, Gutman, Harper and Red Bulls fans have much less reason to fear for trajectory of their careers in New York than they would have had they joined a year or two ago.