Hard as it may be to believe, we’re in a World Cup year again, and the New York Red Bulls squad is already feeling some of the ripple effects.
Cristian Cásseres Jr and Wikelman Carmona will miss the opening two weeks of MLS preseason camp to join the Venezuela national team. On Monday, the Venezuelan Football Federation announced an initial 21 players who will participate in training camp at Isla de Margarita, the site of the academy where Carmona trained as a youth player before moving to New York last year. Among the other players in the squad were fellow MLSers Jhonder Cadiz (who recently returned to Benfica after a loan at Nashville SC) and Pablo Bonilla of Portland Timbers.
The FVF press release indicated that more senior players will join the days to come after covid logisitics are navigated, but otherwise it is a young and largely domestic-based squad selected by the national team’s newest manager, famed former Argentina and Colombia boss José Pékerman. With four rounds of games remaining, Venezuela currently sits dead last in CONEMBOL World Cup qualifying, not mathematically eliminated but with slim enough hopes that calling in an experimental squad for games against Bolivia and Uruguay under a new manager is sensible.
While Cásseres Jr became an established international making 12 appearances under previous Venezuela manager Jose Peseiro, Carmona will be looking to take advantage of the team’s glimpse at the future and earn his first ever international caps. The attacking midfielder, who turns 19 next month, attracted interest from European sides over the course of his first professional campaign in New York, a season in which he struggled to find consistency but showed significant flashes of talent.
Meanwhile, the transfer rumor mill around Cásseres has been conspicuously quiet as the gritty-but-skillful midfielder, who turns 22 on Thursday, settles in as a relative veteran in a young Red Bulls team. Going into 2022, Cásseres is the third longest-tenured player (after Aaron Long and Ryan Meara) in a heavily-overhauled New York squad, one in which he could finally feature as the main rudder at the base of midfield following the departure of incumbent Sean Davis.
For the Red Bulls, Cásseres and Carmona join Aaron Long (currently training with the USA team in Arizona) as the members of the squad with a chance to get a head start on this year’s preseason conditioning through international play. Though the team gathered in East Hanover over the weekend for the opening of training camp, an official itinerary of preseason friendlies ahead of the team’s February 26th season opener against San Jose is yet to be announced. With the international window ending during the first week of February, Gerhard Struber will hope three sharp and match-fit players are at his disposal immediately while the rest of the squad catches up.