HARRISON, N.J. – Two of the New York Red Bulls’ three Designated Players should be returning in 2017. One will not.
The Red Bulls formally headed into the offseason on Thursday, four days after getting eliminated by the Montreal Impact in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Players met at Red Bull Arena to clean out their lockers and to undergo end-of-the-year physicals, while the front office and head coach Jesse Marsch continued to work toward the start of next season.
Part of that work is to make decisions on the roster, including whether to bring back their Designated Players. Keeping midfielder Sacha Kljestan is a no-brainer after his efforts this season made him an MLS MVP finalist, but the same could not be said about fellow attackers Gonzalo Veron and Omer Damari. Both put up sub-par numbers this season with the Red Bulls, be it because of injuries, coaching decisions, or poor performances.
The 26-year-old Veron had the more disappointing year, given that he was around for the entire season. He made just six starts in 23 MLS appearances, was benched often in favor of rookie Alex Muyl, and scored only three goals while providing zero assists. Veron’s production and play were often below the standard of a DP, but the Red Bulls do not seem ready to give up on him just yet.
“He’s done well, but he’s struggled at times, and we’ll sit down with Gonzalo and we’ll talk to him and figure things out,” said Red Bulls sporting director Ali Curtis. “But towards the end of the season you saw him have some really good performances. You saw him have a great performance against the Galaxy in Los Angeles and then you saw towards the end of the season, even though he wasn’t a regular and he wasn’t a starter, every time he was getting in there he was creating chances and finding opportunities.
“He created the [penalty kick] in the last game against Montreal, so how can we figure out a way in which he can support the team and we can support him such that it’s a win-win situation where we’re adding value on all sides of the equation? With Veron, we’ve got to look at his performance, look at his season, sit down with him, cut the tape up, and and hopefully he’ll add value for us and really help us out next year.”
The Red Bulls could certainly use Veron in 2017 given their jam-packed schedule. Along with regular-season play, New York are set to compete in the CONCACAF Champions League, both the current (2016-17) and following editions, as well as the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.
With so many games on the agenda, there should be even more of an opportunity for Veron to deliver and repay the faith the club showed in him when it signed the Argentine in 2015. The Red Bulls believe he can do it, too.
“I continue to be very optimistic about Gonzalo and I think we’ve seen improvement, and he’s still a young player,” said Marsch. “I’m still excited about the possibility of what next year could look like. I think different people have now been critical of my decisions of how to use him and when to use him – which is fine, I understand that’s part of the job - but what’s important is that I think Gonzalo’s notion of who we are and how to be successful here has grown exponentially as time has gone on.
“I think it’s only a matter of time before he really now starts to show everything that he’s about.”
Damari, on the other hand, will not have that chance. The 27-year-old striker, who was supposed to lighten Bradley Wright-Phillips’ workload up top, is not returning to New York after arriving in August via a loan from sister club Red Bull Leipzig. The Israeli had injury problems that limited him to four regular-season appearances, and he was sent off upon his return with a straight red card in the first leg of the conference semifinals series against the Impact.
“Unfortunately he got injured and then he never really got himself going in such a way where this guy is firing on all cylinders and really helping the club as a Designated Player,” said Curtis. “His loan was just until the end of the year, and so he’ll return back to his club.”