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Matchday Cork Board: the curious case of Mandela Egbo

With early season question marks at right back, why isn’t the young Englishman in the mix?

MLS: Philadelphia Union at New York Red Bulls
Even at one of the team’s thinner positions, Mandela Egbo appears to be on the outs with the Red Bulls
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

In the pages of this publication and others, New York Red Bulls right back Kyle Duncan gathered the most criticism of any player for the team’s collapse in the season opener against Sporting Kansas City. Duncan’s speed and skill on overlaps was again outweighed by his suspect positioning and defensive bite, with his loose marking of Daniel Salloi leading to the Kansas City winner in the 61st minute.

Many Red Bulls fans were excited by the sight of English fullback Tom Edwards, signed on loan from Stoke City in February, finally training at East Hanover. But with virus quarantining and fitness levels leaving Edwards likely still weeks away from a featuring role, it will be Duncan manning the right side of the New York defense for the foreseeable future. But fans could be forgiven at this point for forgetting about another English right back on the Red Bulls who is already well-settled in America.

Now 23 years old, Mandela Egbo was signed by the Red Bulls in late January 2020 for an undisclosed fee from SV Darmstadt of the German second division. One of several exiles from elite British academies who the Red Bulls have signed over the last year, it nonetheless remains unclear whether Egbo was a signing made with the approval of current Red Bulls sporting chief Kevin Thelwell. Thelwell was officially unveiled in New York only days after the announcement of his signing, and while Egbo’s background would appear to fit the profile of the signings Thelwell’s recruitment team have made in the months since, his use in the New York side appears to show a player who has ceased being a priority at the club

Unlike left-sided fullback Jason Pendant who was signed a few weeks later firmly within Thelwell’s purview, Egbo struggled to make the Red Bulls starting lineup until a stretch during the late days of Chris Armas’ tenure with the club. He initially debuted quizzically as a winger in a lead-protecting defensive formation against New York City FC, but in further appearances showed his athleticism and an attacking panache at the right back position, including a penalty scored against Inter Miami and a fantastic cross to Tom Barlow to open scoring against Montreal the next week. Egbo appeared to be well on his way to becoming a talented club building block and his charismatic personality shined through in some of the club’s more endearing social media forays.

But the upon the welding of a medium-term team under interim manager (and current assistant) Bradley Carnell that included a relatively free-scoring Kyle Duncan, Egbo disappeared. He has not started for the Red Bulls since consecutive losses to Orlando and Inter Miami, the latter of which featured a missed far post mark on a Matias Pellegrini goal not unlike the one surrendered by Duncan on Salloi this past Saturday. Egbo’s charming presence on social media has remained, although most recently with a somewhat polarizing video of him making his favored corn-and-tuna pizza.

Now, even with Duncan’s iffy form and Egbo’s potential to fill in at a thin center back position, Egbo did not dress for the first team against Kansas City and has been loaned out to the USL reserve side according to the club website. With the team full to the brim on international slots following the addition of Polish forward Patryk Klimala this week, Egbo’s outlook in New York is not optimistic.

Is Egbo a victim of poor timing? A misfit toy purchased in the dying hours of a deposed front office regime? A casualty of the team’s coaching upheaval in 2020? Perhaps the Red Bulls and Major League Soccer should feel a certain sense of accomplishment that an English youth international with no apparent injury problems can be just plain not good enough for the league these days. Whatever the cause, it appears his young career in New York is over after a fairly promising start. At the very least one can’t help but think his...exotic...taste in pizza was a factor.

Matchday Miscellany

Opponent: Los Angeles Galaxy (1-0-0, manager Greg Vanney)

Kickoff: 5:30pm - StubHub Center, Carson CA

Television: FS1

Projected Red Bulls XI: Coronel, Gutman, Long, Nealis, Duncan, Diarra, Davis, Casseres, Amaya, White, Fabio

-Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget was suspended two games by the league on Friday in response to a social media video in which Lletget was recorded using a gay slur. One potential replacement for Lletget in the LA lineup could be former Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan, who came off the bench to score the winner in Miami last week.

-It appears the Red Bulls are finally as injury-free as they claimed they were for Week 1. Gerhard Struber stated that midfielder Dru Yearwood is available for selection after a “14 day” period of unavailability. New signing Frankie Amaya should also be set for his Red Bulls debut after being extensively photographed training at East Hanover since his arrival. Look for the SoCal native Amaya to start and go about 60 minutes in the attacking midfield role Cristian Casseres Jr handled last weekend, while Yearwood begins his creep back to full fitness through playing about 30 minutes of relief in one of the more demanding defensive midfield roles.

-The team’s most recent transfer addition Patryk Klimala will almost certainly not be available. Gerhard Struber expressed hopes for a “quick visa process” at a Friday press conference, implying Klimala will replace Tom Edwards as the golden goose of club immigration counsels in the coming weeks.

-The last time the Red Bulls played in Carson they snagged a 3-2 victory all the way back in the Jesse Marsch era. Daniel Royer, Florian Valot, and Kaku (all technically still members of the team) each scored as New York began setting their Supporters Shield-winning pace.

Best Bald Player in LA Galaxy History: Pete Vagenas

Pasadena native Pete Vagenas is not only the most important prematurely-balding player in LA Galaxy history, but also the most important prematurely-balding front office executive in LA Galaxy history. After making 183 MLS appearances for his hometown team followed by short stints with Seattle, Vancouver, and Chivas USA, Vagenas filled various Galaxy front office role including academy director, general manager, and vice president of soccer operations...but never head of sport, Kevin Thelwell would probably add.

Here’s Vagenas and Alan Gordon in 2007 making a series of sarcastic remarks in official club media about how much they hate the team’s Beckham-era touring schedule:

Match Prediction: 2-1 Red Bulls win

As outlined by Ross Haley in his tactical preview of today’s match, LA Galaxy are a fairly conventional soft-possession MLS team not unlike the Kansas City side New York was mostly able to hang with last week before hitting a match fitness wall. If a Galaxy team confident after a opening week road victory seeks to get forward and open the game up, there should be ample space on the vast StubHub Center pitch for the Red Bulls to break out on direct aerial balls. Look for the Red Bulls to connect more final third sequences together with the help of new signing Frankie Amaya while the defense wakes up after losing focus against SKC.

Once A Metro managing editor Ben Cork breaks down who’s hot, who’s hurt, and who’s bald for the Red Bulls in the Matchday Cork Board. Have an interesting fact or question about an upcoming game that you want pinned on the board? Find him on Twitter (@corkinho) or send him an old-fashioned email at bencorkOAM@gmail.com

What are your predictions or factors to watch for in today’s game? Sound off in the comments below...