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Red Bulls hone in on Elias and Pekhart as awkward transfer window wraps up

Reinforcements in attack appear closer than defensive help as summer that began with ambition sputters out

Tomas Pekhart of Legia celebrates a goal during the Polish...
Tomas Pekhart could be the latest Legia Warsaw man to come to New York.
Photo by Mikolaj Barbanell/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

It’s been a conspicuously quiet transfer window for the New York Red Bulls as the team’s on-field form has hit severe turbulence, but with two days remaining it appears that two targets have emerged with one all-but-confirmed.

On Wednesday afternoon Gustavo Guimarães of Território MLS confirmed reports out of Brazil earlier in the day that linked New York to a loan deal for Elias Manoel, a 20-year-old winger with Grêmio. Elias scored twice last season in twenty appearances at Brazilian second division and according to the Guimarães report would cost $1.5 million to sign permanently. The loan would not be the first one the Red Bulls have arranged for a Brazilian second division player in recent times, having taken on Oeste forward Fabio Gomes for a 2021 season that earned him a later move to Atletico Mineiro.

Then later in the afternoon another Gustavo bomb dropped as he reported that the Red Bulls had made an approach for Tomáš Pekhart, an erstwhile Czech international forward who would appear to be a direct replacement for departed English loanee Ashley Fletcher. While this deal is nowhere near as close as the Elias signing, it does appear to signal a shift in focus in New York’s search for a striker with the dragging pursuit of Dutch youth international Dylan Vente seemingly discarded.

The 6’5” Pekhart is a free agent who recently left Polish side Legia Warsaw, where he was teammates with current New York attacker Luquinhas. A well-traveled journeyman of a certain tier of European football, the 33-year-old Pekhart has made stops in Greece, Israel, and the Spanish and German second divisions after his career peak with Bundesliga side Nurnberg in the early 2010s. Much of New York manager Gerhard Struber’s attack relies on direct aerial balls, and he will hope that a veteran like Pekhart succeeds in bringing down such passes better than the aforementioned Gomes and Fletcher have in their loan stints.

Both signings would strengthen the team’s attack, which has struggled for consistency throughout 2022 and seen Struber struggle to settle on a preferred unit. But in recent weeks the calls to reinforce the team’s backline have arguably been louder. Left-footed defenders Jason Pendant and Lucas Monzon were moved on at the beginning of the window, leaving John Tolkin as the team’s only senior left back and essentially un-restable.

The anxiety surrounding the team’s defense has increased with the uncertainty around the status of utility man Tom Edwards, reported last week to be in an emerging tug-of-war between New York and his parent club Stoke City of the English second division. Edwards traveled to Britain this week to attend to personal matters, but final word on his club status is yet to be confirmed.

But ultimately any moves made will appear to come somewhat late for a New York team whose season has been rocked by shock collapses over the last week to Orlando in the Open Cup and Colorado in last night’s league fixture. Following the acrimonious end to Kevin Thelwell’s tenure as head of sport earlier this year in which the pair disagreed on several targets, Gerhard Struber spent much of the spring and early summer discussing his excitement to add new faces to his squad. With Struber’s team entering the summer in spitting distance of first in the conference and entering the final rounds of the Open Cup, he specifically staked out his desire for signings with experience in similar tactics who would not need the rigid assimilation process Struber has put many of his new additions through.

But the summer months have seen New York’s season stall on and off the field. In June the club announced the hiring of Thelwell’s replacement, former Red Bull corporate administrator and Schalke 04 sporting chief Jochen Schneider. But after this brief unveiling in New York, Schneider was forced to return to Europe to await the approval of his visa paperwork, and was only able to return to the US last week. In the meantime, the club’s recruitment responsibilities have been officially in the purview of Denis Hamlett, with little action registered despite Struber’s optimistic view of working with the longtime club front office hand.

Despite the aforementioned collapse in form that’s dumped the Red Bulls out of the Open Cup and well out of the hunt for conference and league Champions League qualification, Struber has become somewhat more shy about his transfer requests. He stated after the team’s nervy win in Austin last month that his squad was growing in confidence and ready for the season’s final stretch.

But if Struber was unimpressed by a winter transfer window in which the team added Lewis Morgan, Luquinhas, and Fletcher among additional role pieces, one can only imagine his appraisal of this summer. While it appears he will get a signing or two in the end, they will be nowhere near the profile he staked out earlier in the year and come well after the point where they could have salvaged the season’s earlier heights.