Tom Edwards tries to stop an FC Cincinnati attack at Red Bull Arena on August 4, 2021 (Credit: New York Red Bulls)

After two seasons of confused flirting, the New York Red Bulls and Tom Edwards are heading in separate directions. The defender is heading to Barnsley F.C. in the third division of English football. He still remains with EFL Championship side Stoke City F.C., who have been loaning him out repeatedly since late 2020.

“We would like to thank Tom for his time with the club,” Sporting Director Denis Hamlett said in an official communication from the team. “We wish him and his family all the best in the future – both on and off the pitch.”

Edwards was playing for New York on a season long loan from Stoke City for 2022. This followed a similar loan agreement last season where the defender was thrust into the spotlight following multiple backline injuries. Now nearing the conclusion of the regular season New York has terminated the remainder of his loan in what they call a “mutual” agreement.

Edwards’ time in Major League Soccer hasn’t been smooth sailing. In 2021 following an early season injury to Aaron Long, the right back was shifted to more of a center-back role. Troubles adapting, combined with his lack of stature, were one of many reasons why the team fell into a summer slump last year. Despite the rough going he matched well enough on a squad full of loan players. Two assists that season and a general command of the backline probably helped him come back to Harrison the following season.

Of his 47 appearances, totaling 3,618 minutes of action, Edwards started 44 of those games. He became a constant on the starting XI. This is especially true as players like John Tolkin grew into their role on the opposite wing.

In late July, RBNY fan website Once A Metro first reported that Edwards had returned to the United Kingdom to deal with “personal matters”. That article indicated that the defender had given his farewell to teammates ahead of leaving the country. However in the weeks since team management had admitted that Edwards was still coming back to play.

At the time it wasn’t known if this was a full on smokescreen or diversionary with the two sides possibly looking to make a long term arrangement. Instead, Edwards will now play for his second League One level loan at a club previously managed by RBNY head coach Gerhard Struber. His last time in League One was with Fleetwood Town during the 2020-21 season. There he played a dozen games across both league and national cup.

The question on most fan’s minds though will be where this leaves the Red Bulls going forward. In actuality the team has seemingly been preparing for this outcome. Two returning players in particular have seemingly slotted into the three to four man backline. Andrés Reyes’ recovery from a foot injury is one. The other is Kyle Duncan who came back into the fold from Europe just ahead of the transfer deadline. Since his last game in Austin, Edward’s presence has been slowly worked out of the lineup. It isn’t fair to say Tolkin has been playing more to make up for it. But some fans could make that argument.

In the end though, what went wrong for Edwards? The “crazy man from England” was a constant presence for Struber. Despite his struggles as a center defender his commitment to the roll earned respect from both teammates and staff. However, that injury to Aaron Long may have done more to send him back to England then we though. During 2021, especially during the Bulls’ summer slump, reports were constant that Edwards wanted to go back to Stoke City. Even in the winter despite resigning with New York he trained with Stoke. There’s a real possibility that in 2021 despite earning his place on the team he saw his own play start to deteriorate. As a shorter center-back, constantly getting out-jumped, the often physical presence was no Tim Parker. He never was supposed to be.

Still, even as New York has shown up the defenses with Long’s return and additional reinforcements that nagging Stoke question never went away. While Edwards isn’t returning to his main side he will be playing in the same football system. It’s a closer reach to what has always been his goal. If anything, mentally the 23-year-old might find a lot of inward positives from this move.

The Red Bulls return to Harrison this Saturday to play Eastern Conference leaders Philadelphia Union. Edwards’ departure won’t matter against one of the strongest offenses the league currently has.

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