Red Bulls targeting central midfield DP for 2012

Once again, it looks to be a busy offseason for the New York Red Bulls. And sporting director Erik Solér is starting things off with a bang, saying he is looking to add a third Designated Player “from one of the bigger leagues” in Europe.

“We want someone with high quality on the ball who likes to move the ball around but has the ability to score on their own," Solér said in a conference call on Tuesday. "We had a very good record with wide midfielders, we did very well, but we’re trying to add to that as well. It will be someone who has a record of scoring goals and setting other people up.’’

Solér said the Red Bulls could well take advantage of the league’s new rule for younger Designated Players, whereby teams won’t be hit as hard by the salary cap if they sign a big-name, young player. A Designated Player younger than age 20 would count just $150,000 against the cap; one between the ages of 21 through 23 would be a $200,000 hit.

No names were mentioned, but it seems certain that Solér is targeting a creative, central attacking midfielder. Last year, New York used Tony Tchani, Dwayne De Rosario and Joel Lindpere in that role. Two of the three are no longer with the club, while Lindpere is a fixture at left midfield.

As big as that news was, though, first and foremost among Solér’s moves will be to find a starting quality center back. Last season was up and down for New York’s back four, with the partnership of Tim Ream and Rafa Márquez struggling in the heart of the defense.

But come September, when Stephen Keel was inserted into the Starting XI and Márquez pushed up to the midfield, the defense clicked.

“Well, the first priority is a central defender, so that’s one that we’re looking at now and working hard on," said Solér. "We’re also looking at a couple of other positions."

The search for a center back is not an indictment on either Ream or Keel, according to Solér. The option for Keel was picked up by the team last month, meaning the defender will return for a second year in New York.

“I think Tim had a fantastic first season," Solér noted. "He had a season last year where he had some lapses here and there, which you have to expect from someone that is still young and not that experienced. Stephen Keel made a fantastic impact. He came from absolutely nowhere and did very well. But we still need to be even stronger in the defensive part.”

Solér would not hint about the central defender currently in his sights, but he did voice his hopes that goalkeeper Frank Rost will return to the team.

Signed in mid-August, the Bundesliga veteran and former German international was originally not expected to return, per comments made by head coach Hans Backe last month. Solér, however, is hopeful Rost will come back and aims for an answer by Christmas.

If Rost does return, Solér said that the vocal goalkeeper will most likely not keep his DP status.

“We’re still in discussions with him and we’re also discussing with others," Solér said. "We’re also looking at a couple of young goalkeepers – American ones – that we want to bring in. We hope to have a good mix of a good, talented, upcoming American goalie and Frank or another goalie to head that pack and then develop the young [player].”

As far as goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul, the team’s starter in 2010 who played a fair chunk of last season, Solér said "he needs to be a first-[team] goalie somewhere. That's not going to be here."

In addition, midfielder Stéphane Auvray will not return, the club announced on Tuesday.

Kristian R. Dyer covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com.