Dante Vanzeir, in his own words, is “not a normal guy.”
Where other standout strikers from Europe’s top divisions may rock, as Vanzeir puts it, “brand clothes” and have an ego-driven tendency to “love themselves,” the New York Red Bulls' newest Designated Player prefers a more humble approach.
“Besides being on the pitch, I'm just a really relaxed and humble guy. I'm not too crazy about myself, about things,” Vanzeir told Extratime before RBNY’s Matchday 5 visit to Charlotte FC (Saturday, 7:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass).
Another less-than-normal attribute: the 24-year-old's decision to leave his home country during a successful season with Belgium’s Union SG (10g/2a in 20 matches) that saw his club challenging for a spot in the 2023-24 UEFA Champions League.
But for Vanzier, taking the road less traveled is part of the fun, particularly when that road leads him to a club so deeply aligned with his values both on and off the pitch.
“I think the choice of Red Bulls was because the playing style, the way they work, the family – they have all these things. They really inspired me,” said the once-capped Belgian international, who scored the game-winner off the bench against the Columbus Crew in Matchday 4 to give his club their first victory of the 2023 season.
“Twenty-four is not old. It's also not young anymore,” Vanzeir added. “So I wanted a new challenge in my life, in my career. A challenge overseas: Why not? I think it's not the easiest one, but I will never take the easiest path in my life.”
A stylistic fit
Beyond satisfying his hunger for adventure, Vanzeir’s decision to join Red Bulls, and MLS in general, stemmed from a desire to play for a team and in a league that he saw as a stylistic fit.
For MLS, that meant the free-flowing, attacking play embodied by his former Genk teammate (and the 2020 Landon Donovan MLS MVP winner) Alejandro Pozuelo, who Vanzeir name-checked as a key influence.
"The playing style, it's totally different than in Europe," said Vanzeir, who arrived on a reported $5.3 million transfer fee and could become New York's club-record signing. "It's, I think, more attractive, more attacking. And that's something I like."
For the Red Bulls, it’s a commitment to pressing, high-intensity soccer.
“I'm not a lazy striker, I would say," Vanzeir remarked. "I love to run and have a lot of high-intensity movements in my game. I'm also not the biggest, so I need to be quick and let the defenders move."
With Vanzeir yet to start as he increases his fitness and comfort level with the team, it remains unclear how the Red Bulls' tactics will adjust once he becomes a regular in the lineup. That decision falls on head coach Gerhard Struber, who must align his new 5-foot-9 centerpiece with those like Luquinhas and Lewis Morgan. This winter, the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs regular also brought in strikers Cory Burke and Elias Manoel.
"I prefer to have a partner. Like I said, I'm not the biggest one, not the tallest one. So I love when I have a striker next to me who can maybe attract the defenders, keep the ball, and help the team in that way," said Vanzeir. "And I would love then to use his space, to use the space in the back of the defense that he's creating for me as well."
Whatever New York's ideal attacking balance looks like, Vanzeir feels his versatility will be a strength.
"In the youth and in my last years, I played on the wing, I played alone as a striker, so I can play multiple positions," he noted.
Though Vanzeir can’t say for sure when starting minutes will come, he remains dialed in for the club’s upcoming match at Charlotte.
"I think with the hunger and maybe the confidence that we have right now after the last game, we have to be able to beat them even at their home. That's our ambition," said Vanzeir. "But we also know their qualities, and it will be for sure a tough match. But I think if everybody's on this level and can perform, then we have a good chance."
For more MLS Matchday 5 previews, check out the full Extratime episode on MLS Season Pass.