New York Red Bulls' goalkeeper Carlos Coronel speaks to media during the team's 2023 media day (Credit: Michael Battista)
New York Red Bulls’ goalkeeper Carlos Coronel speaks to media during the team’s 2023 media day at Red Bull Arena on Tuesday, February 21 (Credit: Michael Battista)

For the first time in years, the New York Red Bulls held a traditional media day ahead of the upcoming Major League Soccer season. The large group, with nearly 50 media outlets present, had the chance to speak with both players and staff about the upcoming season. The main event saw Belgian national team forward Dante Vanzier officially welcomed to the team.

Tuesday’s showing demonstrates both a return to normalcy and, at the same time, a different approach for the club. The Red Bulls, like many other teams, had kept media appearances away from the in-person method and since the COVID-19 pandemic. With restrictions essentially gone by this point the club is just following the trend by allowing more face to face interactions between media and players.

But it goes further than that. The Red Bulls having a media day at all, with multiple press conferences and multiple players available to speak, is something the team hasn’t done since even before 2020. It might demonstrate the front office’s changing of procedure and media policy heading.

In terms of the event itself, head coach Gerhard Struber opened the day by speaking to the crowd of accredit press. Going into his third full season leading the team, Struber talked about the team’s direction and growth. His roster hadn’t suffered much loss in the offseason meaning the tactical preparation was already ahead of where it has been the previous two years.

As Struber talked about his group being young and hungry, the topic of the team’s new captain came up. Sean Nealis was announced as the latest person to wear the armband last week. But for Struber he knew as far back as late 2020 that Nealis was someone that could take that next step.

“But also for me it’s always important hw the team think,” Struber said. “Of course, I think in more directions I feel that everyone stay behind him and I feel this was the logical decision.”

The star of the day was the Red Bulls newest major signing, Belgian international Dante Vanzeir. The striker posed for his introduction photo with Gerhard Struber, holding the jersey for his new club. His first response to the local media made it clear how much Vanzeir wanted to be in New York.

“I think New York Red Bulls, and Red Bull in general, had a nice plan for me,” Vanzeir said. “Their ambitions, their style of play, the culture and the club it really fits in my style too… Besides that I think the MLS is a league that fits me as well.”

The front office will hope he “fits” in considering how much they paid for him. Dante joined RBNY from Belgium club Union SG this past January for a potential record amount. The initial cost of $5 can go as high as $6.25 million should certain conditions be met.

However he’s already has started to fit into the fanbase as well. Vanzeir went on to say he was most looking forward to meeting all the fans as they packed into Red Bull Arena this year. But even before that the international striker has been doing his part to embed himself in their good graces. His arrival into Newark Airport on Saturday, February 19, was welcomed from members of the three major RBNY supporter’s groups. Vanzeir took time to accept gifts and take photo from multiple members, having a smile on his face nearly the entire time.

Even before that his social media profile has been put in work. Responding to a league tweet asking which team would finish atop the Eastern Conference, Vanzeir’s answer was simple.

“@NewYorkRedBulls don’t @ me”

Struber spoke highly of his newest player.

“He has a special ability, a special… I would say a big nose for goals,” Struber said. “This is the missing link we had in the last seasons.”

Vanzier backed up his nose during the presser, saying he thinks a goal of 15 goals in a season is the bar. His time in the with Union SG saw him score 43 goals in league in just under 80 appearances. He only has eleven days to get set with the club before the regular season begins. Vanzier noted while he hasn’t been with a club for a few months he’s kept fit. His goals for preparation are conditioning, adjusting to the climate, and getting used to the extended travel MLS brings.

Following both press conferences, media spoke with a handful of Red Bulls players more casually. 

That group includes Daniel Edelman who is looking to continue his rise following a decent 2022. However, an influx of midfield talent means competition for minutes. For Daniel though he’s  excited to fight for his spot.

“There is definitely a lot of good competition.,” Edelman said during the availability. Yeah, there is the six with Cristian [Casseres, Jr.], Dru [Yearwood], Frankie [Amaya], and Peter [Stroud], he is a great addition, and it is going to be really exciting. We are all going to battle in training, and we all know that we can get the job done. So, it is going to be a fun year.”

The New Jersey native’s first full season in MLS also came with international duty. Edelman helped lead the U.S. Men’s National Under-20 team to a CONCACAF title last year. The U.S. also qualified for the U-20 World Cup later this year and U-20 World Cup in 2024. It was this workload, along with more minutes with the Bulls, that earned the 19 year old more respect with his teammates.

“At the beginning when I first came to the team I had to earn the respect of the older guys, coming in as a young guy,” Edelman explained. “Just trying to prove myself and that I belong here. You guys are older than me but I’m still part of the team. I wanna help out in any way. That was definitely for me in the beginning of 2022 and it was a grind that year.”

The team’s latest homegrown signing, Peter Stroud, is someone he and the rest of the team will have a chance to help develop this season. The 2022 MAC Hermann Trophy Finalist spoke to NYCSN about his jump from Duke University into the professional game as he continues to train with the first team.

“It’s definitely been a super big transition for me personally. Coming from the college level, being there for a couple of seasons and transitioning into the pro environment. There’s been a lot of changes.

The guys are a lot better, they’re a lot older. So it’s been a good challenge so far adapting to the style and adapting to the Red Bull way.”

That Red Bull way isn’t anything new to Stroud. Peter’s brother, Jared Stroud, played multiple seasons with RBNY and it’s academy. He was selected by Austin FC in the 2020 Expansion Draft and currently plays for St. Louis CITY SC.

However, another piece of the young Stroud’s soccer youth is also waiting nearby. FC Motown, the semi-pro national champions, have ambitions to play the New York Red Bulls in the fourth round of this year’s U.S. Open Cup. The same team Stroud, a Chester, NJ native, spent time with last summer while on break from college.

Stroud says the desire for that match is mutual.

“Yeah for sure,” Stroud said with a huge smile. “Motown is my local team, my local semi-professional club in the area I grew up in. So I hope, I’m praying that’s a fixture that happens because I love the owners over there (and) the staff. Great local club, provides great opportunities and has had some fantastic players.”

At the end of this whole event a few things are clearer for Red Bulls fans heading into the season. Coach Struber thinks Vanzier can show up in game-day rosters soon, saying he does not think it “will be weeks”. The team’s defense will be fluid, with John Tolkin and Edelman both mentioning shifting formations between four and five in the back. The midfield, too, could work as a committee early on as things develop.

The New York Red Bulls open their 2023 regular season this Saturday against Orlando City SC on the road. The team returns to Red Bull Arena for the first time this year the following weekend. That home match will be against Nashville SC at 7:30 PM. 

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