Major League Baseball (MLB) is in a lockout for the first time in over 25 years, the National Hockey League (NHL) is suspending league play until January due to the new COVID variant, but Major League Soccer transfers have just kept on "rolling along," to quote former Rutgers Football star, Paul Robeson's song, 'Ol' Man River' from the 1936 musical film called "Showboat".
Transfers have been coming in around Major League Soccer involving the team Jersey Sporting News covers, the New York Red Bulls. Head of Sport Kevin Thelwell has begun making transfers quickly. These have included acquiring Scottish winger Lewis Morgan from Inter Miami by sending $1.2 million of General Allocation Money (GAM) down to South Florida. A week later, the Red Bulls traded 125,000 to conference rival, Nashville for right-back Dylan Nealis reuniting him with his brother Sean.
During the last postgame of the season, MSG Networks analyst, Shep Messing called the Red Bulls' season "a huge success" and gave his analysis of what Head of Sport Kevin Thelwell can do to improve the RBNY roster that finished in the seventh and final playoff spot in the MLS Eastern Conference.
I still think they need a striker, no doubt about it for me. They need another midfield player, box-to-box midfielder. They've got a goalkeeper and it's also about who do they hold on to-- can they keep Carlos Coronel [or] Tom Edwards... but I'm in love with Struber and Thelwell for this season, [because of] how they're starting to build a team.
- MSG Red Bulls announcer, Shepp Messing
Can Kevin Thelwell build the Red Bulls into MLS Cup contenders in 2022? That would be great but my guess is the former Premier League head of sport's track record says he can. So, on behalf of the JSN Red Bull writers here is our Wish List that contains suggestions on what the Red Bulls can do this offseason.
Biggest Need #1: Striker
It is not official news yet, but after the six-foot-four-inch, Brazilian forward Fabio's loan was allowed to expire on Dec. 21, he is no longer on the Red Bulls roster. That brings New York's forward count down to four; Patryk Klimala, Omir Fernandez, Wikelman Carmona, and Omar Sowe who joined the first team from Red Bulls II in September and signed his first contract at that time.
These are capable forwards, the first of which being Klimala, who led Red Bull with eight goals in 29 appearances in 2021. However, the 24-year-old Pole also showed he can dish out assists by dishing out six helpers and that was tied with Fabio for the most on the team. Omir Fernandez, for a brief period, scored three goals and really helped the Red Bulls win one of those two back-to-back Hudson River derby matches.
'Patty K' was a great boost to the Red Bulls; however, the stakes are becoming higher for this Red Bulls club whose fanbase desperately want them to improve upon barely making it into the playoffs and become one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference in 2022.
Were there any MLS teams that finished top five in their conference without a striker who scored double-digit goals? The answer will startle Red Bulls fans who watched their team finish 20th out of 27 clubs in team goal-scoring in 2021.
- Each team that finished first through fourth in the MLS Eastern Conference in 2021 had at least one player who scored 10 goals.
- #1 NE: Buksa (16) and Bou (15)
- #2 PHI: Przybylko (12)
- #3 NSH: Mukhtar (16)
- #4 NYCFC: Castellanos (19)
If the Red Bulls want to be one of the Beasts of the East, then Klimala must become a double-digit goal scorer, or the club has to go out and find someone who is a real goal scorer. It's that simple, based on the research, because the Red Bulls finished 20th out of 27 teams in Major League Soccer in team goal scoring this year.
Transfer Target #1: Ricardo Pepi
Right now, the MLS Soccer website's transfer tracker has not churned out much in the way of free agent center forwards. One player that should be on the Red Bull radar comes from FC Dallas and he is Ricardo Pepi. As an 18-year-old, US Soccer's Young Male Soccer POTY contributed 13 goals and three helpers over 31 appearances with Dallas during the 2021 MLS season-- but the buck does not stop there. Pepi has registered three goals and three assists in his first six starts with the U.S. Men's National Team (USMNT) in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying.
Thelwell has a sense for the best domestic talent available and has at least inquired on Pepi's status. The emerging talent submitted a transfer request to FC Dallas on Oct. 19 with European aspirations in mind. The New York Red Bulls are the most European team in MLS because their unique playing style employs tactics handed down by Red Bull Global's European clubs Salzburg and Leipzig, but Pepi may have his heart set on more glamorous leagues such as the Premier League, Serie A (Italy) or La Liga (Spain). Overall, the Red Bulls should be in on the quest for the breakthrough American goal scorer because they have the finance and credibility as an ascendant club that is appealing to a player looking to make his mark in the world of soccer.
Greatest Need #2: Left-Back
It's clear what kinds of players they need to bring in across the board and with the scarcity of wingbacks, [Red Bull] know they're going to need to bring in some guys. Maybe there's some homegrowns you can lean on, maybe some college talent, but they're going to have to bring in some outside talent because if Edwards decides not to return, they will be up the creek without a paddle.
New York City's starting right back, Anton Tinnerholm missed the entire playoffs due to injury, yet manager Ronny Delia was still able to pull his team through thanks to two durable Scandinavian wingbacks named Gudmundur Thorarinsson and Malte Amundsen.
Red Bull seemed to have found a replacement for Duncan with Dylan Nealis, but now they can't just go into next season with the talented but still raw John Tolkin playing left-back. They have the resources to get a left-back who can replace Andrew Gutman, who was one of the team's biggest surprises this season and an absolute workhorse who ran his motor up and down the left side of the field for 90 minutes in all but three of his 19 starts for manager Struber in 2021.
Transfer Target #1: Gudmundur Thorarinson
Yes, I know South Ward, he's been with our rival for two seasons. Yes, and the Icelandic defender was very solid for the Champions. Thorarinsson's stats from 2021 are nearly identical to Gutman's
- Thorarinsson: Games played: 24 (20 starts) | 2 goals, 2 assists | 1,660 minutes played
- Gutman: GP: 22 (19) |2 goals, 2 assists| 1,837 Min.
Although Thorarinsson was not picked in NYCFC's starting eleven, ten times this season, the 22-year-old was thought responsible enough to play right-back against talented teams after the opening round. The native of Iceland subbed into NYCFC's semi and conference final matches, where he contributed two assists including the one that led to the game winning goal that sent NYCFC to their first MLS Cup Final.
Thorarinsson's market value is $905,000 according to transfer tracking website, transfrmarkt.com. This sum would be $500 grand more than the sum that the Red Bulls paid Gutman last year. It is clear that Thor showed he is a durable wing back who is capable going forward and is clutch in big games, which makes him a prime transfer target for a Red Bulls squad that is looking to win their first Championship.
Great Need #3: A Defensive Midfielder
Rumor has it that the Red Bulls first homegrown captain in club history, Sean Davis is meeting with Nashville SC. The Eastern rivals who finished third in conference standings in 2021 signed Dax McCarty away from Red Bull in 2017, so why should we let our rivals from Tennessee do that again? Here is what the "Seeing Red! - The New York Soccer Roundup said recently about the rumors regarding Sean Davis.
I'm a little concerned it hasn't been announced yet, I would think that they can come to a [contract agreement] quickly and if your Sean there's nothing more you can do to prove your worth, play every single minute, you drive the team to the playoffs.
- Seeing Red!
Even though there was no better captain in MLS this season than Davis, who also helped usher along the league's youngest roster, the Red Bulls bring in new talent every year and that could be influencing his approach to the offseason. Nothing is confirmed, but the Red Bulls need to make sure that if Davis looks like he will sign elsewhere, another holding midfielder with solid experience must be on the radar.
When Jonathan Dos Santos became a free agent, even though he is three years older than Davis, I said that is who the Red Bulls should consider. However, the report out of MLS Soccer.com today is the former captain of LA Galaxy is headed home to the Mexican First Tier where he will play for Club America.
Transfer Target: Haris Medunjanin, 36 (CIN)
While MLS Soccer's website has announced and pronounced the transfer of "the league's best ever defensive midfielder", Ozzie Alonso to the Red Bulls bitter rival, Atlanta United, Thelwell & Co. could be considering signing another 36-year-old midfielder who has played four years in MLS and, before that five in La Liga, which according to UEFA. Com's Country coefficient rankings is the second-best league in the world.
Medunjanin is a lot older than Sean Davis, 29, who was the eldest player on RBNY in 2021. According to the Seeing Red Podcast's Joe Goldstein and Mark Fishkin, signing a player older than 25 is a rare thing for Red Bull to do, but he has played for some solid teams. Medunjanin made 34 season and two playoff appearances for the Union during their 2019 playoff run.
Since then, Medunjanin's age has not shown because he's played in all but four of FC Cincinatti's games during the last two seasons and chipped in four goals and 1 assist. If there is not a younger, but still MLS-proven defensive midfielder available, Thelwell & co. may want to add the second-most experienced holding midfielder in the league to their roster.
Grooming the Young Players for Future Success
While rumors swirl about Davis who was a great Red Bull captain this season, adding an experienced midfielder like Medunjanin from FC Cincinnati is a move that could really help the Red Bulls youth at the midfield position. The Red Bulls' average age this season was about 23 years old, which made them the team with the youngest average age in Major League Soccer.
For this team to fulfill their potential and start contending, it must include some veterans who can play. An older striker who is good in the air could help Klimala relax and play his game a bit more next season and not have to be the team's primary goal scoring threat.
More than any other addition, the team needs a defensive midfielder with experience and Medunjanin is that guy. He may be an august 36-years-old and have trouble relating to the Red Bulls youngest players, but he still can help Daniel Edelman, 19, and Dru Yearwood, 22, become consistent MLS starters. Yearwood took a step forward in 2021, but still only had one goal and an assist in 29 total appearances this season. It's clear the Red Bulls could use some experience and the JSN staff believe he can make thet team better this offseason.
Let Anthony know what you think about #RBNY by tweeting @TonyParadise3
Anthony graduated from Montclair State University, where he covered a variety of sports for three years. He co-hosts a sports-themed radio show on campus radio station, WMSC 90.3 FM, which was recently named #1 college radio station in the nation.