The 2020-21 offseason for the New York Red Bulls has been one of the most eventful in recent memory. As of this writing, 10 new players have signed deals or have been loaned to the first team and are currently training for the upcoming Major League Soccer season.
It’s a welcome change for fans who have become accustomed to seeing their side look for players’ options more inwardly (academy/reserve team) as opposed to signing new talent.
However, most of the new names have been at both the backline and midfield positions. In fact, both the defense and midfield names have ten or more players listed on the roster currently leaving the front line feeling a little bare at only four.
With Samuel Tetteh returning to Salzburg following his loan last year and Mathias Jørgensen leaving on loan for Europe until June (though he hadn’t been able to make an impact anyway), that leaves just Brian White and Tom Barlow as the returning front men alongside two new players; Brazilian striker Fábio and 19-year-old Cameron Harper.
This leaves the organization in a weird place as fans see a lot of shiny new pieces coming into the team while the striker position feels as though it’s been given a piece of duct tape and a pep talk. Last week, NYCSN’s Chidi Ihemaguba tried to look at some of the positives for this front line group but looking at it fully when compared to the rest of the additions it’s hard to be pleased.
Both White and Barlow have been with the RBNY organization for years including their time on the USL side. However on the first team neither have ever truly risen above average minus one solid 2019 season from White.
An article from Once A Metro earlier this year laid out Barlow as technically limited, but as someone who’s able to grow into the new manager’s Gerhard Struber duel striker system.
“A domestic striker of Barlow’s size and speed is a weapon of more value to Struber’s New York team than probably any other club on earth. More high-pedigree talent is needed in the current squad for sure, but if the Red Bulls are ever going to reach their playoff mountaintop or at least return to perennial Supporters Shield contention, they will need just as many clever fits near the bottom of the roster like Tom Barlow.”
With six goals over 33 regular-season appearances, Barlow is a good side piece but he’s not an answer and most fans know this.
White is better but not by much. What Barlow lacks in technical acumen, White makes up for in being consistently inconsistent. He led the team in goals during 2019, with the caveat being that the squad that season set a record for most individual goal scorers and was trying to find itself after losing Tyler Adams in the offseason and Bradley Wright-Phillips for three months due to injury. He was the best of a mediocre group that had no real identity.
Like Barlow, he feels like a secondary piece to a bigger machine usually that being Daniel Royer or one of the other attacking midfielders like Kaku (though he won’t be an option this year). He’s able to find space but not finish consistently. He’s a great idea to bring on as a second-half substitute and get fresh legs but you need someone for him to distract on the defense and open up space for a consistent finisher.
If the idea that mid-twenty year-olds can clear up space for Royer to score, that’s terrifying and I’m not talking about the opposing team’s perspective.
Both new attacking options up front aren’t exactly world-shattering either.
Fábio Roberto Gomes Netto, or better known simply as Fábio, is only going to be with the team until June. After that, unless New York wants to purchase him, he’ll return to Brazilian club Oeste Futebol Clube for the 2021 Campeonato Brasileiro Série C (third division) season. That means he has only six weeks to make any type of impact on the team before he has to leave, which at most might be seven games.
There is the possibility that with Oeste’s recent relegation from the second division, the team might be more willing to sell Fábio to New York in order to gain more capital.
The point still stands: New York does not have him for long on this initial deal so if he slumps or fails to fit the scheme of a new manager he’ll probably be gone leaving three young players plus the possibility of returning from loan Jørgensen in June.
Talent wise, Fábio is fast and had a stellar sophomore season in Brazil back in 2019. He finished second in Serie B with 15 goals (19 across all competitions) and earned himself a loan to Japan last season. An injury slowed down his pace and COVID probably didn’t help when his return to South America saw him only score five goals in 15 games. But overall, he’s got potential and might slot in well.
The second forward RBNY brought in was Harper, who was purchased for an undisclosed fee from Scottish powerhouse Celtic earlier this month. He’s 19 and only made his professional debut earlier this year when Celtic had multiple players ruled out due to COVID-19. If anything, he fits Struber’s strength of working with young players but overall it’s very difficult to surmise anything from Harper’s past body of work.
Case in point, the last thing Soccerway has on him besides the one appearance with Celtic is a few games from 2017 in the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. Besides that, fans and pundits are going to take notes from training highlights and things he did will an academy player here in the states.
He recently said in an interview that he can “play three positions” upfront; both wings and striker. But with Struber’s tactics yet to be seen it’s hard to say where he’ll fit in. He could be a centerman for White/Barlow to feed or he might become the right side runner to feed Fábio. If his highlights show anything, Harper is able to find space and cross into the middle a lot. But that once again feeds into the worry that none of New York’s forwards are pure scorers.
It’s hard to see the striker position as the biggest part of Struber’s offense as the team continues to focus on the midfield more. The worst-case scenario would be losing Fábio and hoping the new manager can bring something out of Jørgensen.
It’s going to be interesting to see how this all develops and who steps up to become the next main guy in 2021.
Featured Image: New York Red Bulls