Don’t rule out the New York Red Bulls spending big in the summer transfer window, this after they traded midfielder Lloyd Sam to D.C. United this week. The deal seems to preclude what might be an active few weeks for the team in the transfer market.
And perhaps, maybe, a big name player coming to Red Bull Arena. It may not happen, but the Red Bulls have the flexibility and resources to do so, contrary to popular opinion.
The Red Bulls have been without a big name Designated Player since Thierry Henry retired following the 2014 season. There was a time when the Red Bulls had the most expensive roster in MLS, lifted by the big name salaries such as Henry, Tim Cahill and Rafa Marquez. Now they are among the lowest payrolls in the league, a decision that is by choice and not forced out of need.
The philosophy of the Red Bulls over the past two seasons under sporting director Ali Curtis has been about spreading the salary cap over the face of the roster and not investing in just a single big name or two. Keep in mind that Curtis played in MLS during the early years of the league in a dynamic where one or two stars got huge salaries that often were more than the rest of the team combined. His formula found success as the team won the Supporters Shield and were within a game of MLS Cup a year ago.
But sometimes a difference maker is needed. Sometimes that requires spending money.
And splashing a little cash is not something that is foreign to Red Bulls ownership in Austria, despite the relative austerity of recent years when compared to their free-spending ways just a couple of seasons ago. The Red Bulls current salary would fall within the parameters of Cahill’s contract in 2014.
“If the right player comes and fits us in every way,” head coach Jesse Marsch said on Saturday when asked if the team was opposed to a marquee, high-profile signing.
“The Red Bull organization has made it clear that they are not afraid to spend some big, DP dollars if necessary. It’s just about trying to figure out who those guys are, how they fit.”
That doesn’t mean that every Diego Forlan or Francesco Totti is the right fit for the Red Bulls. Given the team’s press system that requires a high-level of physical fitness, a player closer to the end of his career might not be the right use of money.
“Anytime those profiles get higher, the research into how those relationships would become very important. We’ve built a really strong mentality here with this team, this club. We want to make sure whoever comes in fits in really well,” Marsch said.
“You’re not going to see a ton of guys being considered that are over 30 – that’s just the philosophy that we have. That’s not to say that there isn’t the occasional guy who can fit that. We do look for guys who are younger, more in their prime and still have a big upside.”
The move to jettison the aforementioned Sam to the club’s rivals in D.C. was a tough one Marsch admits. Sam was a major catalyst in why the Red Bulls have lifted the Supporters Shield twice in the past three seasons, his play with the Red Bulls a major reason why he earned a call-up to Ghana a season ago and earned his first international camp.
Sam was loved by the fans, a great fit in the locker room and quickly took to fantasy football, winning the team’s title in a competition run two years ago (despite knowing little about the rules of the other football). He was influential on the field, in the locker room and with the fans. It wasn’t an easy move to trade him, let alone to the team’s biggest rival.
But the move sets up the Red Bulls with a nice amount of allocation money, frees up a mid-tier salary on their roster and gives them flexibility to make a move or two…or three.
“There’s activity,” Marsch said.
“There’s activity, there’s no doubt. There’s been discussions, there’s been discussions with players and agents. It’s about finalizing some of the details. We’ll see exactly how we come out of this window, we’re hoping to bolster this roster. We also still feel very good about the group we have.”
“That’s the key for me, to not worry too much about what’s happening in the transfer window.”