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Red Bulls Paper Revue: March 7, 2022

A busier upcoming schedule at Red Bull Arena? A Scotland call-up for Lewis Morgan? A missed opportunity for Jesse Marsch at Leeds? More in this week’s links…

Crew v MetroStars
Mamadou Diallo shared some positive memories of his time in New York in the early 2000s.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Welcome to the Red Bulls Paper Revue presented by Once a Metro.

I don’t even have fully formed thoughts these days. Something will pop into my head like “a rapper from Boston named Oystah Crackahs” with no further advancement. What am I supposed to do with that? What is anyone supposed to do with that?

Here’s this week’s top story.

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Red Bulls General Manager Marc de Grandpre had a long and enlightening conversation with NJBIZ. He discussed dealing with the pandemic, the team’s financial future, and plans for Red Bull Arena. Interestingly enough, ticket sales appear to be doing well.

“We’ve seen a great trend,” de Grandpre told writer Jeffrey Kanige. “Obviously, the last two seasons have been difficult and now we’re looking at our renewal rate for our season tickets – or Red Memberships – up in the mid-80s, which are pre-pandemic numbers. So we’re really excited. And we’ve sold more new memberships or season tickets than we ever did pre-pandemic, so these are exciting trends, we can feel that sports are coming back to life, and we all know how that plays an important role in the community. We feel that we offer a great opportunity for fans to come and engage and we think they’re all waiting for it... If you look at just the numbers I just laid out for you in terms of renewal rates, it’s exciting. Even the average price of our tickets for Red Memberships has gone up $200, so there’s clearly a good perceived value and fans want to be here.”

Red Bull Arena — sometimes referred to as the “Cathedral of American Soccer” by heathens who would burst into flames upon entering a true house of worship – is also receiving a renovation, with perhaps a wider consumer base in mind. “This year we really put a concerted effort behind expanding our portfolio of events at the arena,” shared de Grandpre. “We’re really pushing forward to get a concert. We’ll start with one, maybe two, this year. The last concert we had was in 2011 and it was a great success. We need to make sure we replicate that more often.”

The Red Bulls also boast “the largest youth soccer program in the country,” which sounds true considering the Tri-State Area’s population density. The club is “deep in conversations with a few partners” about sleeve sponsorships, while also “looking at other American sports down the line” after brief forays into lacrosse and rugby union. Another area of expansion is “corporate events” including “car shows” and other “non-soccer events,” the latter possibly including matches against FC Cincinnati.

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Speaking of rugby, do you remember when a rugby league team was set to play in 2022, possibly at Red Bull Arena?

A few years ago, New York Rugby League Football Club was set to enter the Rugby Football League, joining the third tier League 1 alongside an Ottawa representative. The organization would “play an exciting series of matches against some of the world’s best teams.” According to Forbes, Red Bull Arena was considered a possible home stadium.

Now, obviously, this has not come to pass. In 2021, the club switched names and ambitions (while transferring “digital assets”), becoming New York Freedom and charting a new course to compete in the North American Rugby League. The schedule was set to kick off in June of last year but was postponed until spring of 2022 due to “inflated travel and insurance costs along with rigorous health and safety restrictions.”

A few months later, the Freedom announced an end to the “partnership with the NARL” but would “look forward to continuing the development of rugby league” and “provide more details when they become available.” According to a report from Steve Mascord, the club lost faith in the organization. In their place steps the original New York group, joining the six-team league and competing at JFK Stadium in Hoboken, New Jersey.

So, uh, there you have it. The New York rugby league team that was possibly going to play at Red Bull Arena (but never confirmed) is in Hoboken. Despite all the drama, I think I still prefer rugby union. Sorry.

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SCOTLAND NEEDS WINGERS (FOOTBALL PLAN).

Blair Meikle of Football Scotland assessed the national team’s attacking situation, naming Lewis Morgan as a “curious” option. Manager Steve Clarke is said to shy away from players in Major League Soccer with even the prolific Ryan Gauld left out of rosters to the consternation of the Tartan Army. The twice-capped 25-year-old is described as having “done okay across the pond without setting the heather alight.”

Since I’m sure you’re curious, the word heather is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a common Eurasian heath [open grassland] of northern and alpine regions that has small crowded sessile leaves and racemes of tiny usually purplish-pink flowers.” lest you assume Morgan is literally setting women named Heather on fire.

Also, the article was published before the One-Point-Two Million Dollar Man scored a hat-trick against Toronto FC.

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KVC Westerlo expanded the lead at the top of the table with a 2-1 win over Deinze. David Jensen was absent from the lineup for the first time this season. The Danish goalkeeper “tested positive for COVID-19” according to a report in Belgian media.

Here’s a fun stat from Proximus. Only one player in the Belgian First Division B has scored twice on Jensen. The deadly attacker is none other than his teammate, Pietro Perdichizzi, with two own goals.

With friends like these, Jensen doesn’t need enemies.

***

Past-and-or-current rumored transfer target Andrés Cubas is quite the popular fellow. The Nîmes Olympique midfielder is wanted by more than Boca Juniors and other recently named clubs. Just ask his manager, and Midi Libre did.

“It’s not just Boca, there are other clubs,” said Nicolas Usaï. “Andrés is very professional but we have felt for some time that “Those interests are important to him. If [Nîmes] had stayed in [Ligue 1], he would miss South America less. It’s difficult to retain players who want to leave. There’s the sporting and personal aspect too. I will share it with the president, we have already discussed it. I will have another discussion with Andrés today.”

We can learn a lot from Nîmes and their embrace of the transfer market’s natural flow. If you love someone, set them free. If they come back, then they probably blew through their other options and decided that your mediocrity is slightly better than being alone.

***

Speaking of recent transfer targets, Blackburn Rovers is “resigned” to losing defender Darragh Lenihan. The 27-year-old Republic of Ireland international’s contract expires this summer, with manager Tony Mowbray acknowledging, “It looks as though [he] will be leaving us” as negotiations have stalled. Are the Red Bulls still in play or has the club moved on from the pursuit?

Stay tuned, but you’ll probably read any useful information long before it lands in the Paper Revue.

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Where’s Mandela Egbo? The former Red Bulls fullback is still at Swindon Town but “unlikely to sign a contract.” Despite the rumours, he is merely training with the League Two club.

“Mandela is a player I had at Crystal Palace as a young lad,” said manager Ben Garner. “He came back from New York in late November for family reasons, and he’s looking for his next move now. He’s having a few conversations with clubs abroad; he’s trained with us regularly since January onwards. If we didn’t have players in the positions he can play, I would sign Mandela. He’s a very good player; he could easily play at this level in this country and probably above, in my opinion. He’s a great guy, I’ve known him a long time, but we’re just helping him to keep fit. He also helps us with our training numbers.”

The manager leaves the possibility open for Egbo to join the Robins over the summer. For now, he is helping the fullback get in contact with other clubs. The middle of the year is a difficult time to find a new contract, especially when a player is attempting to maintain his market value and avoid too great of a step down the ladder.

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Do you remember Kevin Thelwell?

Chris Beesley of the Liverpool Echo writes that the former Red Bull executive has quite the job ahead at Everton. The very existence of a director of football was up for debate, as the club “held a strategic football review and decided to retain the position. He is now “the third man to hold the title” since its creation in 2016.

Thelwell will be working with Frank Lampard, who is best known for being on the receiving end of a nutmeg delivered by Mike Grella. “I think the model can look different depending on the club,” said the manager. “At the moment, as I said before, I’ve got a very good relationship with the chairman and the owner. I think it can be very good as long as each department within that hierarchy is aligned. Of course everyone wants the best, but practically you have to work in a similar direction. That relationship between [me] and a sporting director, it will be very important to know our roles and to work together for the good of the club... It’s a fantastic club, and if you get the right fit for that I will certainly be very happy working with anyone who can help this club be more successful”

Thelwell is expected to place a priority on young talent, while also dealing with “half a dozen first-team players whose contracts expire this summer.” His potential transfer strategy is of great interest to observers of Everton, although perhaps there is some trepidation regarding his previous job. According to the Echo, in New York, he “had to bring in several players on loan to save money.”

Thelwell revealed some interesting information in his first interview at the new club, perhaps hinting at the sort of personal connection that executives attempt to suppress for professional reasons. “Both my parents are from the city [of Liverpool],” he told the official website. “My dad’s been an Everton supporter for 68 years. [We had] lots of conversations about the traditions and former games that he’s been at. It’s a fantastic feeling to be able to come back to the area and hopefully do a great job… I watched all the games in the 80s.”

Former Everton fullback Michael Ball also had his say on potential issues ahead, noting that the club has been guilty of a “too many cooks kind of approach to [player] recruitment,” with too many voices requiring input on transfers. He considers Thelwell a possible “change of direction,” as the executive with an “impressive CV” is “well-connected, trustworthy, and has the ability to do the job.” The “not daft, very clever” New York Red Bulls are also described as a “huge franchise” enjoying a “worldwide set-up,” adding to the director of football’s bona fides.

The club should hang a banner at Red Bull Arena that says “Not Daft, Very Clever” next to the Supporters’ Shields laurels.

***

Jesse Marsch lost his first match in charge of Leeds United, dropping a 1-0 decision to Leicester City. There were encouraging signs, as the Premier League Panel noted that his “classical 4-4-2 pressing structure worked really well” and disrupted the opponents. However, the sense of missed opportunities lingers at a time when points are at a premium.

Some people are already ringing alarm bells or, at least, standing with hands firmly pressed to the lever. “[Marsch] hasn’t got a magic wand,” Dean Jones told GIVEMESPORT. “He can’t come into Leeds and fix everything overnight. To be honest, he did have problems going into Leipzig straightaway. He only won one of his first six games, conceded four goals to Bayern Munich and six goals against Manchester City.”

Despite opponents having matches in hand and the pressure of a relegation battle, Leeds should be fine. The interesting thing about Marsch is that contrary to his reputation as a master motivator, his real strength is making incremental games on the training pitch. With the constant demand for results, he may not receive enough time to demonstrate his true value to the club, regardless of how many times he performs the Saint Crispin’s Day Speech in the locker room.

What do I know? I’m sure he’ll be fine. If not, there’s always another job.

***

The ducks may finally be getting in order.

Last summer, RB Leipzig sporting director Markus Krösche assumed a similar role at Eintracht Frankfurt. In October, CEO Oliver Mintzlaff said the club was closing in on a replacement, “confident [of] welcoming the new [hire] very soon.” Months later, the position has remained open.

There may finally be some red smoke rising from the chimney. “We will definitely have a sports director with us at the start of the [summer] training camp,” said Mintzlaff. “He will be involved in our planning and strategies in good time… There are many, many small interfaces, so many topics that we still want to address. We want to become more international. We have to position ourselves broadly.”

Mintzlaff disagreed with the idea that the club has fallen behind as the position remains unfilled. “Up until a few weeks ago I was reading things like ‘loss of substance on all levels,’” said the executive. “I think we covered that to a certain extent and were able to manage it quite well. We want and need a sports director, a strong sports director who should also become a face for the club. But it’s not like I have the feeling that we’re lost in the sporting field at the moment.”

That’s the right mentality to have. Leipzig wants a girlfriend but doesn’t need one. Who cares about being alone on Friday and Saturday nights? You’re by yourself all the time, why should the weekend be any different?

***

Former Red Bull Vincent Bezecourt appeared on the RatedRR Podcast to discuss his journey to Singapore. Receiving “a bit of fanfare,” the 28-year-old midfielder recently signed with Geylang International FC of the domestic Premier League. His move from Armenia’s FC Alashkert to Asia required a fortuitous chain of events.

“It’s very funny, actually,” said Bezecourt. “I was great. We won the championship (at Alashkert). We qualified for the European Conference League… I couldn’t do better than that. I was looking for a new challenge, and then my main objective was to come back closer to Europe to my family. I was aiming [for] Spain, Portugal. And then the funny thing is my brother just had his bachelor party in Budapest. I go on LinkedIn and I get in contact with this agent from Budapest who was well-connected there. So we’re getting in contact and I ask if there are any teams in Budapest looking for a ten. And he’s like, ‘No, no, nothing, it’s still pretty slow, but I have something in Singapore.’”

Less than a week later, Bezecourt was meeting with club management. The 2022 season opened last weekend. Geylang defeated Lion City Sailors, 1-0, with a certain Frenchman scoring the lone goal in the ninth minute.

Here are the highlights of his debut.

***

After a challenging 2021, Ambroise Oyongo is enjoying a great year. As you probably heard, the former Red Bulls defender captained hosts Cameroon to a third-place finish at the Africa Cup of Nations, converting the deciding penalty in the consolation match against Burkina Faso. His club career has also returned to form.

Last season, Oyongo retreated to the outskirts of the Montpellier squad, being sent on loan to Krasnodar. In his Russian debut, he suffered an injury that kept him on the sidelines until the following October. Somehow, someway, the 30-year-old worked his way back into the rotation for La Paillad, appearing in the last four matches and starting three. The fullback even registered this phenomenal goal in a 4-2 loss to Stade Rennais.

Oyongo is coming to a crossroads this summer, potentially leading out of France. “Indeed, I am at the end of my contract in June,” he shared recently. “We will see at the end with the MHSC what will happen. For the moment, this end of contract is not at all in my mind, it is to find my level and play to the maximum to benefit from it. We will discuss [it] with the club at the end of the season.”

Fortune smiled on Oyongo, in the midst of a contract year. He should be able to snag another deal based on the strength of his current form, which is no guarantee for a player on the other side of 30. Time marches on.

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Mazel tov to Anatole Abang! The Cameroonian striker’s wife, Adelia, gave birth and posted photos of the baby to her social media platforms. His new club, Al-Bataeh, appears to have smashed his face in a cake (or vice versa) as a way of celebrating.

He also scored a hat-trick in the club’s 5-1 victory over Jazira Hamra, but who cares about that?

***

One-time reserves midfielder José Aguinaga went back to Spain, signing with CD Torrijos of Group 18 Castilla-LaMancha in the fifth-tier Tercera División RFEF. The club is currently at fifth place in the table and should qualify for the promotion playoffs. After time in the Getafe CF academy and attending Rider University (Go Broncs!), the 26-year-old played with Red Bulls II in 2018, scoring six goals in 24 appearances. His career continued at Phoenix Rising and the El Paso Locomotive but returning home should be nice.

***

Afrik.com checked in with former MetroStars striker Mamadou Diallo. The retired Senegalese international touched on a variety of topics including his career and supporting the current version of Les Lions de la Téranga (The Lions of Teranga [hospitality]). He enjoyed his time in Major League Soccer, which is no guarantee back in those days.

“I spent some time in my career in the United States, at New York Red Bull and New England Revolution, where I was also top scorer,” said Diallo. “I was the best player, top scorer and MVP (Most Valuable Player, best player) in 2000. So, I had an extraordinary season there. I can say that practically in all the clubs where I had to play, I was lucky to always be the top scorer. But Major League Soccer was something special, because I had to meet several great players like Carlos Valderrama, Lothar Matthäus, Hristo Stoitchkov… It was a dream to see these people. When you have the chance to play with them, it’s something extraordinary.”

Diallo joined the MetroStars in 2002, acquired via a trade. He made 17 appearances, contributing 11 goals and four assists. Later that year, the club sold him to Al Ahli of the Saudi Professional League for $200,000.

Was there some other event involving Diallo and the MetroStars, perchance while at Tampa Bay? I scanned the records and cannot find anything of note. Oh, well, I’m sure that’s everything.

***

Minnesota United is trying to get better at that whole youth development thing. The failure to bring Caden Clark appears to sting but perhaps not as much as you might think. “There was some value (we) gained out of it,” said chief soccer officer Manny Lagos. “Even if we were disappointed we couldn’t get him into our academy.”

Minnesota totally doesn’t care. Really, they’re over the situation and happy that he’s happy. Ha, ha, it’s totally fine, man.

***

A heated scholastic rivalry is coming to Red Bull Arena.

Wood-Ridge and Hasbrouck Heights are set to contest the Route 17 Derby at North America’s best soccer venue. New York was “happy to host” after being connected to the coach of the former school during a charity event. The match is scheduled for October 10th at 7 p.m., as the athletes “will get access to the [the] locker rooms and warm up on the field.

“This is one of the most exciting things that could ever happen to these kids,” said Alberico De Pierro of Wood-Ridge. “It’s going to be a priceless experience. The feeling these kids are going to get when they walk out on the field will be incredible. I think it will be a once in a lifetime experience for all the athletes, coaches, parents, family and friends who come.”

At the beginning of October, Once a Metro will publish the high school match’s gambling odds. Of course, that’s a joke. The post goes up in September.

***

Let the record show that Luca Lewis did not join A.C. Cesena because his father is the owner but instead was attracted by the club’s history with players like Massimo Agostini and Sebastiano Rossi. Despite being on the roster, the former Red Bulls goalkeeper “cannot be included in the list of usable players” for matches. His contract expires at the end of the season, after having chosen I Cavallucci Marini (The Seahorses) over “some proposals in [Serie] B and Switzerland.”

Here’s a joke that was submitted by Suzanne of Mount Olive.

To this day, my husband continues to receive a lot of proposals: me proposing he should shut up.

Thank you, Suzanne. You make marriage seem like a desirable choice.

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Do you have a story you’d like to submit to the Paper Revue? Email us at bencorkOAM@gmail.com or send a DM to @Once_A_Metro on Twitter.