You can say whatever you want about Red Bulls general manager Erik Soler, but you have to give him this: The man is not afraid of making a big trade.
In a move that came as surprise to most observers, Soler sealed a deal that sent winger Dane Richards to Vancouver in exchange for French striker Sebastien Le Toux. A former MLS All-Star in 2010 with the Philadelphia Union, Le Toux will give the Red Bulls a proven goal-scorer and another attacker that can help support Kenny Cooper and Thierry Henry up front.
“We think that bringing Sebastien here was the right move,” Soler told reporters after the Red Bulls’ 2-2 draw vs. the Seattle Sounders Sunday.
“We’ve seen what he’s done with Philly over the last two seasons. He hasn’t done that well in Vancouver, [but] we believe that was because he was being played out of position.”
It’s interesting that Soler mentioned Le Toux was being played out of position — he was playing as a right-sided midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 formation for Vancouver — because Le Toux ended up switching from being played up front to right wing in his first game with the Red Bulls against Seattle. Ironically, this led to the Red Bulls’ first goal, as Le Toux followed up on a rebound to equalize in the 24th minute.
“I started up top, but [coach Hans Backe] asked me to move to the right, which was better for Thierry,” Le Toux said after the match.
Although it might seem rather odd to have a striker play out wide, it isn’t uncommon. For example, despite being purchased as a center forward, former Liverpool player Dirk Kuyt spent the majority of his career at Anfield being deployed as an auxiliary right winger. Kuyt was never the most technically gifted striker, but his constant energy and pressing of the opposition made him a very useful right-sided midfielder.
Le Toux is a similar type of player in terms of work rate and is possibly even more skillful. But the biggest attribute Le Toux and Kuyt share is game intelligence, being in the right place at the right time to seize on an opportunity. Le Toux’s first goal is the perfect example of that, getting in position to follow up the rebound to equalize the match.
If Backe wants to have Cooper, Henry and Le Toux in the lineup at the same time in the Red Bulls’ 4-4-2 formation, it means that Le Toux will have to get used to life on the right. There’s no way you’re going to take away Henry from his favored position and his chemistry with Cooper is something that shouldn’t be messed with. It will be up to the head coach to make it work and integrate Le Toux into the lineup seamlessly.
So Long, Dane
While the move came as a complete surprise, Soler told reporters that the trade was made because Richards had aspirations to play his trade overseas.
“We knew [Richards] was probably going to leave us in the summer,” Soler said. “His agent [made it] very clear that he was going to go to Europe. We had to look at it at a professional and business matter.”
Richards was an extremely popular player in the locker room — Soler made it a point to be complimentary in his praise to the Jamaican international — but was having a subpar campaign this season, just one goal and two assists in 17 matches.
As good of a guy Richards is, it must be said that there were many instances where he ended up being a one-dimensional player. His breakneck speed was his best attribute, but his lack of end product could be frustrating to watch. With Richards at the end of his contract, it was best for Soler and Backe to cash in and get a motivated player like Le Toux looking to prove himself.
The development of Brandon Barklage at right back has allowed Jan Gunnar Solli to be an option as a right-sided midfielder and made Richards expendable.
The Heat Will Be On
To those fans going to Wednesday’s matinee against the Chicago Fire, a small suggestion: Invest in bottles of water. Lots and lots of water.
According to weather.com, the expected high in Harrison will be 98 degrees. For spectators, it could be uncomfortable. For the players, it could be unbearable.
The heat was blaring on Sunday and it’s only going to be worse on Wednesday, which is something the Red Bulls’ captain isn’t exactly looking forward to.
“As you can imagine, with the heat, [Sunday] wasn’t an easy one,” Henry said. “I don’t know how the game will be against Chicago at 1:00, let’s hope we can do the business in the first half.”
With the quick turnaround, conserving energy in such brutal conditions will be paramount. Possession of the ball, an important aspect of any game, becomes even more urgent. More time on the ball means less time chasing it around and expending energy trying to get it back.
Expect an extremely slow tempo with a few lineup changes. If you’re one of those folks who can’t take the heat, you can always watch the match from the comforts of an air-conditioned room on MSG+ at 12:30 p.m.