It’s January, so you know what to expect. Gray skies, crowded gyms, and MLS preseasons being mildly disrupted by international call-ups.
The New York Red Bulls have emerged as one of the bigger honorees/victims in the national team squad lists being released this week. After news earlier this week that injury-plagued youngster Wikelman Carmona would be joining up with the Venezuela under-20s, the Red Bulls saw more players recognized at senior level on Wednesday.
First was the widely-expected naming of John Tolkin to the United States team that will be temporarily managed by former Colorado Rapids boss Anthony Hudson. The 20-year-old academy-bred left back is coming off a stellar 2022 season in which he played nearly every minute for Gerhard Struber and earned the rite of passage that is European transfer rumors — he was even name-dropped by Gregg Berhalter over the summer as a player with an outside chance of breaking in before the World Cup. Likely to compete with Real Sociedad reserve Jonathan Gomez for the left-sided fullback role, Tolkin is almost certain to get his first cap against Serbia or Colombia later this month.
About that Colombia team? Andrés Reyes is going to be in it. The 23-year-old Red Bulls center back had somewhat of a setback in 2022 after missing the season’s first half with a broken foot, but his emergence as a dominant physical force in the New York backline since his arrival from Inter Miami in 2021 has earned him notice from national manager Néstor Lorenzo. Reyes joins several other MLS players in a Colombia team that is also largely an experimental side of fringe players, but his still-young age and recent mentioning of an ambition to play in Europe hints at a player who will be in the national picture for a long time.
As of Wednesday night, the Venezuelan senior team was yet to release its squad to face Guatemala on January 28th. But it will almost certainly include midfielder Cristian Cásseres Jr, who Gerhard Struber mentioned as a potential New York captain in his season-opening press conference on Tuesday. The most successful New York campaign could see the international net expanded to take in Scottish international Lewis Morgan, Jamaica veteran Cory Burke, recent Uganda debutant Steven Sserwadda, former Polish youth team standout Patryk Klimala, and Americans Sean Nealis, Kyle Duncan, and Frankie Amaya. When asked about the potential for the Red Bulls to face many international absences in a summer where a Gold Cup is scheduled, Struber said he would not be pulling a Hans Backe and allow himself to be “surprised” by any of these call-ups, and that the potential absences had been calculated into the team’s concept.
But it will be a crowded calendar, with the continental Leagues Cup tournament being added to 2023 schedule that could potentially involve over 50 games for a team hoping to make a deep Open Cup and/or playoff run. Struber expressed a hope in Tuesday’s press comments that his squad would prove its depth over the course of 2023, but the team still has some “gaps” to fill as the winter transfer season hits the halfway mark. The departure of Aaron Long (who was also named to the US squad) to LAFC leaves the Red Bulls with only two center backs with significant professional experience in Reyes and Nealis. While the rumors surrounding the potential splash for Belgian forward Dante Vanzeir continue to swirl, a potential move back to a two-striker formation would likely still require another body if such a move can’t be completed.