Armchair Analyst: Ángel angst
Is Juan Pablo Ángel is on his way out of New York?
It may seem an
odd subject to spend time on in the playoff run of a season that is
threatening to be the best in franchise history. But to borrow a phrase
from former Metrostars coach Bob Bradley, “It is what it is.” And what
it is is the dominant story coming from the Red Bulls’ camp these past
As the situation currently stands, Ángel doesn’t seem
to fit into Hans Backe’s plans for 2011, and may not really fit for the
rest of 2010, either. The striker who’s led the line since his arrival
in 2007, and has been by far the league’s leading scorer during that
time (58 goals in league play, 61 in all competitions), has been forced
into a tertiary role since the arrival of attacker Mehdi Ballouchy from Colorado.
reasons, according to Backe, are tactical. He sees Ángel and Thierry
Henry, the new face of the franchise, as being the same type of striker.
And in a way, the Swede is correct.
Henry nor Ángel fit the traditional, back-to the-goal mold. Both can
and do occasionally play that role, holding the ball up and bringing
teammates into the play, and Ángel may have a bit more of a facility for
it than Henry, but it’s neither’s preferred course of action.
are more comfortable facing up to defenders, playing quick give-and-gos
with their left midfielder, and interchanging on that side of the pitch.
Henry’s spectacular goal against the Rapids last month, courtesy of
some nice combination play with Joel Lindpere, is a good example of that. Ángel’s skinning of Yohance Marshall early in the 2-0 win at Los Ángeles a week later – a play that didn’t lead to a goal, but should have – is another.
the numbers don’t lie; Ángel has scored a full 80 percent of his
run-of-play goals from the left side. With Henry preferring to occupy
that same channel – he’s such a left sided player that he actually
played up top on the left wing in Barcelona’s 4-3-3 – it’s clear that
there’s the potential for a traffic jam.
But does that mean Ángel
has to go? That’s the question long-time fans are asking, and they’re
right to ask it. After all, “preferring” to play in a certain space
doesn’t prove an inability to play elsewhere as needs dictate. And Ángel
has already shown his willingness and ability to play with another
forward who loved drifting left and attacking from that space when, way
back in 2007, his most common strike partner was Jozy Altidore.
has added a ton to his game in the three years since, but back then he
was pretty much a one-trick pony. Drift left. Face up. Use superior
physicality and one-on-one skills to create space. Shoot. Rinse. Repeat.
and Altidore, it should be noted, flourished together. Unfortunately it
doesn’t look like Ángel and Henry will get that chance.
does that mean for Ángel’s future? Right now, it seems he’s not willing
to take a significant pay cut (he’s the league’s second-leading scorer,
after all), and is not willing to come off the bench. In an interview
with Brian Lewis of the New York Post, he said he’d like to stay and play another year or two, but isn’t holding his breath for a contract offer.
Bull, meanwhile, seem to be eyeing that Designated Player slot that
Ángel currently occupies. Backe wants a speedy striker to pair with
Henry (the most commonly mentioned name is Notts County’s Luke Rodgers,
but surely he can’t be worth a DP tag), and Ángel certainly isn’t that.
Whether it’s Rodgers or someone else, though, the writing is on the wall.
brings us to the logistical part of the column. Right now rosters are
frozen, so Ángel can’t be traded. There’s also an expansion draft coming
up in seven weeks, and the list of guys New York absolutely has to
protect is large. Ángel probably isn’t on it.
Is it possible,
then, that he could end up on the West Coast, suiting up for Portland
after being the first pick in the expansion draft?
Ángel wants no part of playing on artificial turf, even the
seventh-generation stuff the Timbers are laying down in PGE Park. But if
the Timbers or Vancouver Whitecaps (who will also play on turf) select
Ángel, they do have an attractive trade chip to shop around the league.
Galaxy, for example, could use another guy who consistently puts the
ball in the net and aren’t afraid to splash a little money around. Plus
it should be noted that Ángel’s best year in MLS happened under Bruce
Arena, the current LA manager.
Other places make varying degrees of sense. Toronto FC
could make a nice offer, and like every other team in the league, would
love a guy who’s a proven, consistent double-digit scorer. D.C. United, with all their young talent yet no one who puts the ball in the net with any regularity, could do the same.
other possibility (aside from leaving the league entirely) is that
Ángel becomes the test case for the new re-entry draft, which was part
of the Collective Bargaining Agreement signed between MLS and the MLS
Players' Union back in March. No one’s really sure how this will work
until it’s tried, and the language leaves a ton of wiggle room. In
theory, the team that selects Ángel will have to make a “reasonable
offer;” if they don’t, he can turn it down and go back into the re-entry
As it stands now, United would likely have first dibs.
That’s a tough pill to swallow for the New York faithful, who have already seen two legends (Clint Mathis and John Wolyniec) retire this year, with two more (Mike Petke and Seth Stammler)
hanging ‘em up at season’s end. Throw in the departure of their
captain, all-time leading scorer and best player in club history, and
it’s no surprise that there’s more than a small bit of existential angst
among the teams’ long-time fans.
But the game is a business. Roy Keane didn’t finish his career in red. Raul isn’t a Merengue anymore. Jaime Moreno will be playing for someone other than DC in 2011.
Ángel’s story, sadly, will be no different. It is what it is.
Matthew Doyle can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed at twitter.com/mls_analyst.