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AGF Aarhus not exercising option to buy on Mathias Jørgensen

Danish striker...returns to New York??

SOCCER: APR 06 MLS - Minnesota United FC at New York Red Bulls Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With a spot in Europa Conference League qualifying on the line, Aarhus Gymnastikforening defeated Aalborg BK in a winner-take-all Danish Superliga playoff. Die hviie triumphed in penalties, clinching a spot in the inaugural third-tier competition. The club now looks ahead to the summer transfer window to improve the squad and supplement the depth chart.

One player that will not be returning next season is New York Red Bulls striker Mathias Jørgensen, failing to appear on the roster for the consequential fixture. In December, the 20-year-old Danish youth international joined AGF on a six-month loan. The deal reportedly featured an $800,000 purchase clause which will not be exercised.

“I can say that Jørgensen will not be extended,” sporting director Stig Inge Bjørnebye told local publication Århus Stiftstidende.

The decision comes as no surprise considering Jørgensen spent the majority of the loan sidelined with multiple leg injuries. He made a single appearance in February, playing 22 minutes and earning a yellow card as a substitute in a 3-3 draw with Copenhagen. However, the loan was not a complete waste because the decidedly spindly striker productively used his time to put on 16 pounds of “almost pure muscle mass.”

Jørgensen returns to a Red Bulls team that is markedly different than the one he departed. A tactical overhaul and the addition of strikers Fábio and Patryk Klimala may have rendered him surplus before even stepping off the plane. Prior to the recent loan, he was already on the outskirts of the squad, having only made 13 scoreless Major League Soccer appearances in two seasons. His most productive spell at the club was spent with the reserves, scoring 11 goals in 22 USL Championship matches during the 2019 season, although observers noted his lack of cohesion with the high press. Last year’s COVID-19 pandemic protocols threw a wrench into his presumed development plan, forcing him into the periphery of the first team and denying continued playing time at the reserve level.

Joining New York from Odense Boldklub in February of 2019 for a reported $2.5 million transfer fee, the press release heralded a “dynamic option” that “fits the profile of a Red Bull player” while possessing a humble attitude and “desire to work for the team.” Sporting director Denis Hamlett claimed there was the possibility for contribution “right off the bat.” Curiously, the front office and management at the time had not watched Jørgensen in person, instead relying on videos and a referral from former head of scouting Ben Ehresmann to form “an extensive report.”

Looking past the flashy transfer fee relative to American soccer, his initial acquisition and roster status is not some outlandish situation, especially after a change in leadership and tactical style. The Red Bulls made a speculative signing on a young prospect, hoping for production and an eventual transfer windfall. When the desired outcome failed to happen, the club was forced to make room for the next potential superstars. Early designs of a youthful rebuild were derailed by poor scouting, the ill-fated kismet that befalls many a good intention, or some ugly combination of the two.

What does compound the issue is the strict nature of MLS roster rules and regulations which are unfriendly to a single albatross, let alone several. Outside of some salary cap wizardry, the Red Bulls will likely ship Jørgensen out on a series of loans, hoping that his hypothetical performance entices a progressively decreasing transfer fee. As long as there are clubs willing to temporarily take on the burden of his salary, the less preferable options of a buy out or weathering the remaining years on his contract need not be considered.

Barring some profound changes from time spent in the weight rooms and gymnasiums of Denmark, expect Jørgensen to head out on loan again this summer, having already been sent away once by the current leadership. If he is able to regain fitness and avoid injuries, perhaps his form from the 2019 USL season can be replicated elsewhere. The Red Bulls appear to have moved on, but his professional career is still in the early stages and far from over.