Daily Kickoff 2.6.23
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New York Red Bulls sign DP forward Vanzeir from Belgium

The New York Red Bulls have used a Designated Player spot to boost their attack, announcing Friday they’ve acquired Belgian international forward Dante Vanzeir from Union SG. The 24-year-old has signed through the 2026 MLS season with an option for 2027. Vanzeir could reportedly become RBNY's club-record signing if all incentives are hit, surpassing the spot former midfielder Kaku holds. Concurrently, RBNY have transferred Polish striker Patryk Klimala to Israeli Premier League side Hapoel Be'er Sheva after he produced 13g/10a in 57 games. Klimala, alongside attacking midfielder Luquinhas, held a DP spot last year.

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The Red Bulls are due

It wouldn’t have been all that surprising to see the Red Bulls feel comfortable with their attack after adding Elias Manoel and Cory Burke this offseason. It would have been kind of a bummer though, considering the transfer of Patryk Klimala gave them a pair of open DP spots. But now Dante Vanzeir is here and maybe, just maybe, prepared to be the attacking force New York have been missing since Bradley Wright-Phillips left.

Now, he may not end up in quite the same role. We could still see Manoel and Burke play critical roles as nines with Vanzeir tucked in behind in a supporting striker position. However Gerhard Struber chooses to approach the setup, the major point is New York have invested in a potentially match-winning, goal-producing talent. The 24-year-old racked up 48g/21a in 92 matches for Union SG in the Belgian Pro League.

Like with every player who comes into MLS, we don’t know how well they’ll fit and how quickly they’ll adapt. No matter what though, you have to be intrigued by the Red Bulls making sincere attempts to finally clear one of their biggest obstacles when it comes to matching the highs of the BWP era.

Let’s talk right quick about how rough it’s been since they lost the best version of BWP. Last year, winger Lewis Morgan contributed 14 goals. However, six of those were penalties. Meanwhile, strikers Klimala and Tom Barlow added just three goals. The year prior, Klimala scored five goals from open play while Fabio (remember Fabio?) scored seven goals from open play. In a COVID-shortened 2020 season, Brian White led the way for New York with five goals from open play in 23 possible games. In 2019, BWP dealt with injuries and White led the team with nine goals from open play.

In 2018, the last year of Wright-Phillips’ peak, he scored 20 times from open play, and the Red Bulls won the Shield and set a points record. Feels like those two things are related.

Now, two new faces and one face we really didn’t get to know all that well are going to try and provide the kind of attacking output the Red Bulls have been lacking for four seasons now. If they can collectively contribute at something resembling a BWP level with Morgan and Luquinhas helping power the attack, the Red Bulls may just be a threat to challenge the top of the conference again.

There are some concerns, of course, about losing Aaron Long to free agency, but it’s hard to envision a world where the Red Bulls struggle all that much defensively under Struber. Meanwhile, we know Burke can contribute to a similar system. We saw a flash of what Manoel can be at the end of last season. And Vanzeir appears to have a ton of promise. It might be time to feel outright optimistic about the Red Bulls this year?

At least in the regular season. Let’s not throw precedent out the window, now.

Other Things

NYCFC sign Argentine defender Cufré on loan from Mallorca: New York City FC have signed Argentine defender Braian Cufré on loan from Spanish top-flight side Mallorca. The 26-year-old left back arrives through the end of the 2023 MLS season with a purchase option included in the deal. A product of the Vélez Sarsfield academy, Cufré spent five years with the Argentine Primera División powerhouse before joining Mallorca in 2020. He's tallied 1g/3a in 39 total appearances with Los Bermellones, who are currently 10th in the LaLiga standings.

Geiger named general manager of Professional Referee Organization: The Professional Referee Organization (PRO) announced Friday they have appointed Mark Geiger as their new general manager. PRO manages the refereeing of all Major League Soccer matches and oversees officiating for other professional leagues and competitions in the US and Canada, such as the US Open Cup and the National Women's Soccer League. The decision comes after Howard Webb left PRO's general manager position following the 2022 MLS season to become the first-ever chief refereeing officer of England’s Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL).

Real Salt Lake loan homegrown defender Orozco to Mexico's Santos Laguna: Real Salt Lake center back Jaziel Orozco has joined Liga MX side Santos Laguna on a season-long loan. RSL's 30th homegrown signing, the 18-year-old Mexican native logged 315 minutes last season with the Claret-and-Cobalt. His main contributions in 2022 were with the club's MLS NEXT Pro affiliate, Real Monarchs, making 39 appearances and earning team Defender of the Year honors.

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