Hot on the heels of a match-winning performance over Orlando City last weekend, New York Red Bulls midfielder Cristian Cásseres Jr was named to the Venezuelan national team for World Cup qualifiers against Bolivia and Uruguay early next month. It is highly likely that Cásseres and the same group of players will represent Venezuela in this summer’s Copa América...which I guess is taking place in Brazil now?
After a stuttered start in New York where he played multiple midfield roles under four different managers, Cásseres has emerged as a key figure in the new side built by Gerhard Struber (who says the 21-year-old “understands my football exactly”) in the early weeks of 2021. He’s now scored three goals from a shuttling “number 8” role and has a powerful presence in the team’s pressing system. His stunning free kick goal to seal victory against Orlando on Saturday serves as the cherry on top of this fantastic start, one that perhaps was bred through the confidence of his parallel emergence with the Venezuela team.
Following in the footsteps of his father Cristian “Torito” Cásseres Sr, a speedy forward who earned 28 caps for La Vinotinto in the 00s, Cásseres Jr now has four senior caps for the Venezuela program where he has starred since youth levels. After playing a key role in an upset victory over Chile last November, Cásseres stated his eagerness to establish himself in the national team further and now has a perfect chance to over the coming weeks.
Assuming the latest logistical plans hold and the Venezuela squad is unchanged through the summer, the Copa América will keep Cásseres out of MLS action from this week until at least June 28, the date of Venezuela’s final group stage match. Though the league itself is currently starting a three week break for international play, an absence of Cásseres upon the restart would be a boon for Dru Yearwood, who will almost certainly take over the loose minutes as a shuttling number 8 after being set back in the pecking order by preseason fitness issues. But could the Red Bulls be preparing for a more long-term assumption of the role by Yearwood and maybe even more signings?
Cásseres has likely the highest transfer stock of any player on the New York roster given his age, eye-catching form, and burgeoning international status. Though he has been vocal about his desire to win an MLS Cup title with the Red Bulls before a potential move overseas, his agency has been somewhat active over recent months in promoting his play in New York. A breakout Cásseres performance for Venezuela this summer could be enough to have European clubs crowding Kevin Thelwell’s inbox, and perhaps the team’s notably deep central midfield corps will allow the New York sporting chief to consider the most lucrative of such offers.
But in the meantime, Cásseres appears set to be the only senior player the Red Bulls will lose to international duty over the next month. He will hope, as his father and many Venezuelan internationals before him did, to be part of the generation that finally brings the baseball-loving nation into the South American footballing elite. The first qualifier against Bolivia is scheduled for Thursday June 3rd at 4pm Eastern.