In this edition of Penalty Shots, Once a Metro managing editor Austin Fido joins us for a discussion about the upcoming MLS offseason, RBNY's goals for 2017, and the Gonzalo Veron question.
Aaron Bauer: There are only two MLS Games left in 2016. Immediately after that, we enter the wacky, totally ridiculous part of MLS -- the offseason. There are three drafts this year, two of which could see the Red Bulls lose players. Of those two, the most important is obviously the expansion draft. MLS is seeing Atlanta and Minnesota United join this year, and each team will have the opportunity to pick 5 players from various MLS franchises. Teams will be able to protect all homegrown players and 11 players under contract. In theory there should be some MLS starters available for each team to stock up on. Now, the question begs: will the Red Bulls protect designated player Gonzalo Veron?
Veron joined the team midway through the 2015 season and has seen his ups and downs. When he is on the field he has shown his talent, but rarely does he get that opportunity. The "should Veron start," question has been debated at length, but is there a real risk that he could be taken by Atlanta or Minnesota? Both teams have open Designated Player spots, and Atlanta has an Argentinian manager in Tata Martino. Austin, should the Red Bulls protect Veron at the expense of other players?
Austin Fido: I think they should not. Over a season and a half, all I have seen is evidence that the team can't figure out where Veron fits in the lineup. It wanted to start 2016 with him at the center of a remodeled formation, but he got hurt and the team got into difficulties - and by the time he got fit again, there was a settled lineup that was more or less delivering the required results. It happens. There isn't room in the side for every player, even very good ones.
Looking ahead, the roster has Daniel Royer lined up as a senior attacking player who looks capable of playing either flank. It would be weird if the coaching staff backed away from Alex Muyl - whatever you or I might think of him, he's done what was asked of him and he's got a lot of room to grow as a player if he keeps getting opportunities. And the team also has Derrick Etienne and Junior Flemmings coming through, as well as incumbent starter Mike Grella.
So, for me, it's time to cut losses, admit it hasn't worked out with Gonzalo, and move on. Hang Veron out there in the Expansion Draft and see if anyone picks him up.
But that's what I think they should do. What I think they will do is protect him.
Aaron: I am of two minds. Part of me thinks that there is already a handshake deal with Atlanta over Chris Duvall, a Georgia native, so this whole exercise is moot. I would hope that deal, which is pure speculation, is Atlanta takes a player from another MLS franchise and we trade Duvall for that player. With that Atlanta doesn't take any players from the Red Bulls to consummate that deal. I think Minnesota has too much to assemble before adding a player like Veron as a complementary piece to their attack.
That being said, Tata Martino is the wild card here. Veron fits his plans for the Atlanta franchise, and he is a relatively cheap Designated Player. If the Red Bulls leave him unprotected, I think he's the second pick by Atlanta, after a starting goalkeeper. The fit makes too much sense.
There is also the question of Austria here. The Red Bulls paid a transfer fee to get Veron, they probably don't want to lose him for nothing. I could understand MLS roster mechanisms forcing their hand if they just want to cut ties, but paying a few million for a player only to see an expansion team claim him does not seem like something Austria wants. I want to see Veron work with this team, but you're right. Life will move on without him.
Austin: I sort of expect Duvall to be protected precisely because he's too good for Atlanta to pass up if he's in the Draft - assuming ATL doesn't already have a back line figured out. A deal to render the whole expansion grab-bag exercise (mostly) moot makes a lot of sense, and wouldn't be a surprise at all.
But if the Red Bulls arrive in the Expansion Draft with nothing already worked out, I just can't find a way to protect Veron without risking someone (Duvall, Grella, one of our CBs) who is of greater value to Jesse Marsch and who would leave a bigger hole to fill. Personally, I think Marsch's greatest failing is not finding room in his team for Veron to date. But that's me. I've never won a Shield and back-to-back Eastern Conference titles.
If they protect Veron, the front office is getting very close to telling Jesse to put him in the team next year, which seems to run against the general RalfBall philosophy. Ralf himself has spent significant money on players that didn't work out - he sent us one this season: Omer Damari.
But you raise a good point: letting Veron go, or even leaving him unprotected, will be admitting failure. And maybe the front office doesn't want to admit it made some poor choices with regard to signing a player the head coach didn't really know how to work with - and that is indeed why I expect them to protect him. But they should let him go. He's a good player. Let him go play for a team that wants what he has to give.
Aaron: For your last point, living in Atlanta, it would be nice to see Veron get consistent playing time for 17 games in person. I think he and Tata Martino could take over MLS, which some of our friends thought he would do with Jesse Marsch. If there is no handshake deal, Atlanta is all but certain to take Veron. I don't want to lose him for nothing. I hope they protect him.
This offseason is a mystery to me. Last year, the goal was to keep the team the same. They did, and well the results were predictably the same. I wonder if there is a worry of stagnation, and we could see Grella left unprotected to shake things up. I could see him being very useful in Minnesota, and I thank him for his two solid years of service for us. I'd like to see Royer get more playing time, and we have a quadruple burden this year. We are going to need some serious depth, Grella is replaceable, Veron is not, let's find out about Royer.
Speaking of which, I am still upset that we are doing this Desert Diamond Cup right during the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. I don't know if this is a ploy to get NYRB II playing high-level preseason competition, or a sign that we are not taking the CCL as seriously as the quotes are to be believed. Frankly, I need to see what kind of players we sign this offseason to have any idea the direction this season is going to go. What is the goal? Besides winning two playoff series of course.
Austin: Quick point of information, just to get it into the discussion - if Veron has a no-trade clause in his contract, he's protected. And that's that. And maybe all the RBNY talk of sticking with him is precisely because they know he can't be traded on a whim and. ... well, he's not been given the chance to make himself attractive to other clubs anyway.
To your last question: I think the goal should always be to win a trophy. Yes, you want to win THE trophy. RBNY is in MLS. MLS teams try to win MLS Cup. Those are the rules that define the club's existence. But the every-season ambition has to be to win a trophy: Open Cup, MLS Cup, Supporters' Shield, or CCL. More than one, ideally. One at minimum.
I'd be surprised if they plug it quite as ham-fistedly as they did last year, but I'm sure the broader strategic goal is more "sophistication." There is a lot more the team can be doing tactically, and I'm guessing they'll come up with a new plan for trying to add the variation they need to succeed. Over in Leipzig, Ralph Hasenhuttl has said his team has the ability to adapt tactically to almost any opponent. It is possible to play RalfBall and play intelligent, flexible soccer. Indeed, that is sort of the stated goal of the RB Soccer brains trust. So I think RBNY will work hard on developing greater fluidity and flexibility - they just might not say that's what they are doing quite so stridently this time around.