In June 2021, the New York Red Bulls sold young sensation Caden Clark to RB Leipzig of the German Bundesliga for what was likely a multi-million dollar transfer fee. As of this morning New York has indirectly spent $675,000 of that money to replace Clark with…Caden Clark.
On Wednesday it was announced that the United States youth international midfielder would be re-joining the club on a new full-season loan from Leipzig after the expiration of the previous loan he was technically on for the second half of the 2021 season. The move required New York to drop their latest stack of reportedly flush GAM money this offseason, sending allocation dollars first to Toronto ($575k) to gain the second spot and then to FC Cincinnati ($100k) to obtain first spot on the MLS allocation list, given that Clark is now technically an ex-MLS player returning to the league from a significant transfer.
As part of the trades, Toronto additionally pitched in a 2022 international roster slot while Cincinnati’s lower intake involves them moving back to the top of the order immediately thanks to New York’s deal with Toronto…The Aristocrats! Clark additionally signed an extension on his contract with Leipzig as part of the deal, but the loan with New York will also have an extension option after 2022. Clark will immediately join the New York squad at training camp in Southern California and is expected to see minutes in the team’s preseason friendlies at the Coachella Invitational which starts Thursday.
The soon-to-be-19-year-old Clark became a victim of both bad luck with his health and errant planning at the Red Bull mothership in Europe during the time before and after his official transfer to Leipzig last year. Purchased with the expectation of joining a Jesse Marsch-managed Leipzig team in the winter with plenty of time and trust to develop in, Clark would miss much of the MLS season due to recovery from an appendix removal while Marsch was fired by Leipzig in December after a poor start. Unwanted for the moment by Marsch’s replacement Domenico Tedesco in Leipzig but technically barred from involvement with the New York operation due to MLS rules, Clark spent much of the interval maintaining his fitness by training on his own in his home state of Minnesota.
How much of this arrangement is New York scoring an extra few months with a cherished talent or being required to hold the bag for Leipzig’s poorly-vetted decision last June may never be known. But now Clark is finally allowed to re-join a New York midfield that will be missing its veteran linchpin from 2021 Sean Davis after his departure to Nashville but otherwise features an enticing mix of maturing young talent. Prior to his appendix situation Clark had shined as a shuttling 8 midfielder in manager Gerhard Struber’s diamond formation, and looks likely to return to either that role or rotating as one of the wide attacking midfielders in Struber’s 5-4-1/3-4-3 formation used in the later parts of the year.
Despite Clark’s status as perhaps the club’s most popular new addition of recent memory, the news of his “return” will still likely land with a mild thud in a fanbase eager for shiny new objects for a emerging squad. But while Clark’s signing may not provide novelty to the New York depth chart, it joins the permanent signing of Carlos Coronel and the imminent loan return of Tom Edwards as crucial retention of some of the key pieces of what was a strong base structure for much of 2021.
Though the losses of Davis and Kyle Duncan to free agency and Andrew Gutman to loan expiration will sting, the club has learned enough from last season’s rebuilding to commit to more permanent assets ahead of 2022. With the signing of Miami standout Lewis Morgan completed at the opening of the winter transfer window and Polish-based Brazilian winger Luquinhas reportedly close (though not in a physical sense according to one visually-astute Twitter user), the Red Bulls are increasingly looking like a deliberately trimmed and reshaped unit rather than one back at the drawing board.