HARRISON, N.J. – Jonny Steele received an offer he couldn’t refuse. The New York Red Bulls received a golden opportunity to free up a roster slot and some cap space.
Those two factors are what ultimately saw Steele leave the Red Bulls on Thursday, a decision that was not entirely surprising given his lack of playing time at the club this season, but came in abrupt fashion.
Steele and the Red Bulls mutually parted ways earlier this week in a move that both parties believe they will benefit from. The 28-year-old midfielder will now be allowed to look for the type of playing time he desires at an unnamed Australian club that had recently expressed interest in him, and his departure provides New York with some wiggle room under their maxed-out salary cap.
“From his point of view, it was very much, ‘I would like to do this for my career, I’d like to move, I’d like to go and do this,’” Red Bulls sporting director Andy Roxburgh told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. “From our point of view … what we decided then was that one, we would respect Jonny’s request and then the other hand it would open up a little bit of space in the salary cap – money for us – because we’ve been looking recently for other alternatives.
“It wasn’t like we fell out or anything like that. For him, he viewed it as a big, new adventure, big, new opportunity for him. From our point of view we thought, ‘Well in the circumstances the way things are going with him, it might be advantageous for us as well that we could open up space here and maybe we could pursue one of the people that we’re after.’”
The Red Bulls did explore the possibility of trading the Northern Ireland international prior to releasing him, but what was offered to them in return was not deemed advantageous. Additionally, Steele was not keen on the idea of playing at an MLS club that was not the Red Bulls.
New York, however, did not try and see if they could get a transfer fee from the Australian club.
“We weren’t negotiating with them,” said Roxburgh. “We were dealing directly with Jonny. Jonny Steele had the offer, but he had to be available. … This year hadn’t quite been going the way he wanted, we wanted, and so the timing was probably right.
“He had this one offer, opportunity [that] he might not have gotten again in the transfer window period, and from our point of view we thought maybe this is the moment for us to move on.”
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Steele leaves the Red Bulls nine months after helping the club win the first significant trophy – the 2013 Supporters’ Shield – in its history. The left-sided midfielder was an every-game starter in that squad, getting the nod in 32 of the 33 regular season matches he played in and showing his high work rate while adding five goals and six assists.
Returning this year to high praise from head coach Mike Petke for an improved attitude, Steele resumed his place in the starting lineup in the season-opening defeat to the Vancouver Whitecaps. He struggled there and was in and out of the lineup during the following games as Petke opted to go with players like Bobby Convey and Eric Alexander.
Steele finished his sophomore season in New York with six starts, 15 appearances, one goal and two assists in league play.
“Last year, I think we got the most we could possibly get out of Jonny. He played very well for what was expected of him,” said Petke. “He had an opportunity this year to go somewhere else, and I think it was best for both parties that if he had another opportunity by all means go explore it and it frees up money for us. Hopefully, we do the right thing with that money, which we need to, but at the end of the day we wish him the best.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.