After a dozen winter signings, the New York Red Bulls aren’t going to let the regular season get in the way of more roster tinkering.
On Wednesday the club announced the transfer of striker Brian White to Vancouver Whitecaps for a base fee of $400,000 in General Allocation Money that could increase to $500,000 depending on performance clauses. The Flemington, New Jersey native scored 15 goals in 47 league appearances for the Red Bulls and made his final appearance for the club as a substitute in the closing moments of New York’s 2-1 win over Orlando this past weekend.
White leaves as one of the true success stories of New York’s youth development pipeline. Despite playing for rival youth club Players Development Academy during his teen years, White began his path with the Red Bulls early through the club’s U-23 team during his offseasons from Duke University. His prolific form at PDL level (21 goals in 25 appearances) was enough to have him firmly on the Red Bulls’ radar for the 2018 SuperDraft where they selected him 16th overall.
After a productive season in USL with the Red Bulls II reserve team, White intially broke into the first team under Chris Armas late in the 2018 Supporters Shield-winning campaign. White would emerge as a regular starter in 2019 after injuries and tactical shifts saw Bradley Wright-Phillips fall out of favor, with White’s 9 goals saving New York’s playoff status during an otherwise bleak campaign and securing him a long-term contract following the season. White carried some of the scoring touch into the abridged 2020 season with 5 goals in 18 appearances.
However with the massive influx of new personnel to New York over the most recent offseason including strikers Fábio Gomes Netto and Patryk Klimala, White had clearly slid down the pecking order in New York with even veteran winger Daniel Royer preferred by manager Gerhard Struber in recent weeks as a support striker. At $216,000 in guaranteed salary, White’s contract was too big to justify keeping under the salary cap as a bench player, especially with the trade value granted by his proven ability to score in MLS on a slumping team.
So yet again Kevin Thelwell and the New York front office have managed to squeeze value and roster flexibility out of a fringe asset. The move increases the likelihood of the club exercising the permanent transfer option held on the aforementioned Fábio after the striker’s scoreless-but-lively form impressed in the season’s opening weeks. Despite moving him to the bench for last weekend’s win over Orlando, Gerhard Struber mentioned a “big trust” in the lanky target man postgame. The club will almost certainly need the 23-year-old’s minutes with White now out of the picture.
The Red Bulls also have obvious needs further back in the formation after the season-ending injury to star defender Aaron Long last month. With the transfer window for foreign signings having closed on Tuesday, New York’s options for bringing in outside talent will be limited to within MLS, but there are perhaps options available as stopgap depth in the center of defense. American youth international and Red Bulls academy alum Henry Kessler has seen his minutes dwindle at high-flying New England Revolution in recent weeks, while Real Salt Lake’s Justen Glad could also become expendable after the Utah club announced the signing of Croatian center back Toni Datkovic on Wednesday. Gerhard Struber’s diamond formation could always use more depth and quality in central midfield, and New York has been linked to sibling club Salzburg’s Austrian international Zlatko Junuzović in recent weeks.
But this all assumes it’s possible to predict the moves of a front office that jumped through every hoop possible for Andrew Gutman and still has three senior players seemingly exiled from the first team. Kevin Thelwell’s operation in New York has been a nimble one so far, and this summer should reveal even more of his intentions with this rapidly-transitioning squad.