HOBOKEN, N.J. – From outside midfielders to fullbacks to a creative attacking player, there are several areas the New York Red Bulls would like to address before the start of the 2014 campaign. Crossing them all off the offseason wish list, however, will prove quite the challenge.
Red Bulls sporting director Andy Roxburgh had an end-of-the-season roundtable discussion with a handful of reporters on Tuesday, and one of the main themes that kept popping up during the hour-long conversation was that the club currently does not have surplus money to use on improving its current squad.
That may be hard to fathom for some of New York’s most ardent fans, given that the team declined contract options on costly players like Fabian Espindola and Heath Pearce and received extra allocation money for reaching next year's CONCACAF Champions League. But incentives and other factors have played a part in leaving the Red Bulls in a tight situation with regards to their offseason spending.
“You know the way the system works and how complicated it is and the restrictions on you financially,” Roxburgh said. “I’m joking that [Lionel] Messi is not available, but it’s not just Messi, it’s all sorts of talents that you might like to bring that you just can’t afford to bring. Not because the company or the owner wouldn’t give you the money, but because you just aren’t allowed.
"Talking about Argentina, that’s the reason why we couldn’t take up the option on Fabian. I’m sick about that. I was sick when I lost Kenny Cooper [last offseason] and I just arrived. [He] was labeled as a victim of the salary cap, and that’s exactly what’s happened with Fabian. I’m absolutely sick, because you can’t have three starting front guys whose salaries are at the limit because that’s one-third of your salary just for three players.”
While the Red Bulls were not keen on bringing Espindola back at the financial figure he was slated to make in 2014, they were interested in trying to keep most of this year’s squad intact. That presented a number of challenges in and of itself and also forced New York to spend a lot of its open cap space.
“We’re doing our absolutely utmost to retain as much of the squad as we can, but even that is a nightmare,” Roxburgh said. “A number of them, their numbers are becoming the real numbers this year, like Bradley [Wright-Phillips] was only half a year last time, someone like Eric [Alexander], some of his previous salary was being paid by the previous club, so we’ve got a number of them where their real number comes into play this year. To retain them, you’ve got to bite the bullet on that.
“We’ve also got one or two we’ve needed to reward. We took up their options, but we needed to reward them a little bit for what they’ve done because their salaries were lower and they needed to be upgraded a bit. That also has an impact on us, so a chunk of our money has been used already for next season just to retain, I think it was something like, 12 of our players.”
The Red Bulls might be low on funds, but that does not mean they are completely unable to spend in the coming weeks and months. In fact, Roxburgh hinted at a pair of potential announcements in the coming days. Roxburgh also said signing a third Designated Player to join the likes of Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill was not out of the question, though doing so would likely mean having to move one of the club’s current pieces in order to free up enough cap room.
“You’ve got to have a space in your roster; not just a space physically, not just a body space, but you’ve also got the money there,” said Roxburgh. “Right now and after what I just said [about] trying to retain our squad, if we wanted to bring in a DP, we would maybe have to move somebody else out, so that’s a decision that needs to be made. You need the physical space and the financial space.”
With so much focus on money, it would be easy to think that fullbacks Brandon Barklage and David Carney were just cap casualties, but Roxburgh revealed that other reasons led to the two defenders having their options declined a few weeks ago.
“The other guys that we didn’t take up the options were rather more tactical decisions, technical decisions,” said Roxburgh. “They’re rather more because we wanted to do something a little bit different in that back area."
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.