More than four years after he first coached against him, Jesse Marsch finally has Tim Parker on his side.
The trade ended the Red Bulls’ long-held desire to nab the 25-year-old center back, who Marsch coached against in 2013 and 2014 while he was a volunteer assistant at Princeton and Parker was playing at St. John’s. The Long Island native made his first appearance for New York on Tuesday, going the full 90 in the Red Bulls’ huge 2-0 win at Tijuana in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series.
New York paid a steep price for Parker, but Marsch feels that the package the Red Bulls sent to Vancouver will be more than worth it for a player the club view as an ideal fit for their system.
“We’ve always known that he has great physical qualities and because we’ve got people that know him, we know he’s got a fantastic mentality,” Marsch told MLSsoccer.com Thursday morning. “And then you know for us center backs are key, I mean they are for any team, but the way we play so high up the field we need to have smart, athletic center backs who understand and can meet the standards of what we do. In that sense, we felt that Tim was the best center back in the league for us. We’ve aggressively been trying to pursue him and get him for, I would say, the better part of two years. It finally became available and we’re really happy to have him here.”
Of course, New York still have some work to do with Parker, who is out of contract at the end of the year. Sources told MLSsoccer.com before he arrived in New York that Parker asked Vancouver for a trade after they didn’t meet his asking price of a three-year, $1.8 million deal. If New York don’t re-sign him first, he could sign a pre-contract with a foreign club beginning as early as July 1 and would be free to move abroad after the expiration of his deal.
“It’s complicated, but the goal is to have him here for the long-term,” Marsch said.
Parker isn’t the only important Red Bull that is in the final year of his contract; Homegrown midfielder Sean Davis is also in the last year of his deal. Davis recorded two goals and four assists in 27 regular season appearances last year and has started all three of New York’s CCL matches, recording a goal in the second leg of their Round of 16 series win against Olimpia and showing off his versatility by playing in an advanced role and as both a box-to-box and defensive midfielder at Tijuana on Tuesday.
Marsch expects Davis and 19-year-old Homegrown star Tyler Adams to play increasingly large roles this year in a flexible Red Bulls midfield that lost Felipe and Sacha Kljestan but added Alejandro 'Kaku' Romero Gamarra and Marc Rzatkowski this winter.
“Tyler and Sean play very big roles here. Last year, we talked about them establishing themselves in a big way with the team and now I think it’s more like them taking the team over,” Marsch said.
Of course, Davis may have a fight for a starting role on his hands. Kaku is still working his way into full fitness after a drawn-out transfer saga kept him from joining the Red Bulls until late in preseason. Once he gets up to speed, he’ll likely be a full-time starter, as will Adams and winger/forward Daniel Royer. That leaves two starting positions for Davis, Rzatkowski and Alex Muyl, one of whom will likely be relegated to a reserve role when the Red Bulls are fully healthy.
That’ll be a tricky situation for Marsch to navigate, particularly as the club are engaged with Davis in contract talks. Like Parker, Davis is free beginning on July 1 to sign a pre-contract committing him to leave New York for a foreign club next winter. A source said the 25-year-old New Jersey native has already drawn interest from several clubs in Germany’s 2. Bundesliga.
For his part, Marsch said the Red Bulls are “really hopeful” that they’ll find a way to “commit to [Davis] long-term” and praised the fourth-year pro’s versatility, leadership and growth.
“I think that Sean is on a really good path,” Marsch said. “He’s been really fun to work with because he will always try to do the right thing, he will always try to be everything that he can be to the team.”
“He’s taken such massive strides in the last two years, and that that was destined to happen no matter who was around him,” Marsch added later. “We’ve been really impressed with Sean over the past couple years and we’re really excited for what the future will bring for him.”