LAUDERHILL, Fla. – With the MLS SuperDraft over and done with, the New York Red Bulls can finally take the time to do something they have yet to: Recap what they’ve accomplished thus far in their busy offseason.
Since the 2012 campaign came to a close, the Red Bulls have been hard at work searching for a new coach and reshaping their expensive roster, so much so that they did not meet with media to discuss their recent transactions until the MLS Player Combine in South Florida this past week.
New York, who are still without a head coach, have shaved off a chunk of last year’s roster while reloading with more MLS-experienced players. Still, the capture of midfielder Juninho Pernambucano was arguably the biggest acquisition the Red Bulls made this offseason.
The former Brazilian international (right, with NYRB sporting director Andy Roxburgh) joined the club from Vasco da Gama in December, and New York are counting on him to add some sorely needed creativity and pinpoint set-piece delivery despite him turning 38 later this month.
“One of the things we’ve lacked over the last couple of years is a player who can make that final pass, creatively,” New York interim head coach Mike Petke (top) told MLSsoccer.com. “We’ve had patches where players have been able to do that, but what he is is that type of player that can really link up well with [Thierry] Henry or [Kenny] Cooper or whoever it is and provide that.
“His set pieces are phenomenal and I’m not so worried about his age and stuff because he just came off a season in Brazil and he did very well. He’s still going at that age.”
Another pair of players the Red Bulls added are center back Jámison Olave and forward Fabián Espíndola. The two South American players were acquired via trade from Real Salt Lake in December, and both bring a winning pedigree to the Red Bulls after having helped RSL lift the MLS Cup trophy in 2009.
Olave brings a combination of blazing speed and a physicality that are hard to match in MLS, while Espíndola adds a versatile attacking option.
“He can play straight up top or out wide, so it’s a good option for us,” said Petke of Espíndola. “I’m very excited of having him here because I know what he’s capable of. I’ve played against him personally and watched him the last couple of years as a coach.
“The abilities that he brings with the ball at his feet and also in the defensive scheme. When I played against him my last couple of years, he was the worst forward to play against because he was buzzing all the time, you never had a second as a center back with the ball and that’s the type of pressure that we need.”
Other players the Red Bulls added include defender Kosuke Kimura and forward Josué Martínez. The club also re-signed a number of its returning players to new deals, and sources tell MLSsoccer.com that the Red Bulls are expected to bring in center backs Tyler Ruthven and Toni Stahl in for trials during the preseason.
Still, it has not been all importing by the Red Bulls this offseason.
New York parted ways with several key figures from last year’s team, including fan-favorite Joel Lindpere and maligned Designated Player Rafa Márquez (left). Lindpere’s departure via a trade to the Chicago Fire is still drawing flak from some sections of the Red Bulls’ fanbase, but Márquez’s exit was the one that received most of the attention.
The Mexican midfielder/defender had endured a slew of injuries and suspensions since joining the Red Bulls in August 2010, and Red Bulls fans had been calling for his dismissal for months. They finally got their wish on Dec. 12, as New York and Marquez mutually agreed to sever ties.
“It was just Rafa looking for somewhere, a new place, a new challenge and us just trying to build a new team,” Red Bulls technical director Ricardo Campos told MLSsoccer.com. “It was literally a mutual agreement for both parts, just looking at what was better for him and what was better for the club. I’m just glad it was able to work out and everybody’s happy.”
As for how the Red Bulls look back on Márquez’s time with the club? Well, it’s safe to say it differs from how most fans do.
“I think he was a successful DP,” said Campos. “I think he definitely produced in the team and had great games; the quality of his play is hard to find in many players. I would definitely say it was a positive stay at Red Bull, but like anything else, at some point it ends.”
The Red Bulls are now hoping they can soon say the same about their search for a new coach.