On the surface, it has been a relatively quiet offseason for the New York Red Bulls, with midfielder Bobby Convey the lone acquisition so far. Look deeper, however, and the defending Supporters’ Shield champions have been busy.
As head coach Mike Petke reiterated Thursday, the Red Bulls intend to emphasize continuity and chemistry rather than resort to regular roster overhauls, and Petke and Sporting Director Andy Roxburgh have clearly identified players they intend to build around in 2014.
“It’s been almost a cliché about the New York organization over the years having an overhaul in the offseason, and that’s something I want to get away from,” Petke said. “We have good chemistry and a good returning core. There’s no reason to mix it up just for the sake of it.”
There have been changes of course, with four defenders, including a regular starter in Markus Holgersson, headed out, but those transactions made significant headway toward keeping the Red Bulls in line with the league’s salary budget. Keeping an experienced team together generally requires creating enough room to accommodate both raises and bonuses as successful players reach the latter stages of their contracts, and Petke said the moves made this offseason were done with that in mind.
“We had three center backs, including Markus, who were making good money at the same position,” Petke said. “With the salary cap that we have, it’s tough to maintain that. The more veteran the team is, the more bonuses come into play and the more budgets go up. Fabián [Espíndola] and Markus were tough decisions, but they were necessary decisions to maintain a competitive team.”
The fiscal space created by the transactions should give Petke and Roxburgh significant flexibility in acquiring players, both within the league and via transfer.
“We have to look at all avenues,” Roxburgh told NewYorkRedBulls.com in an offseason interview. “Whether it's players coming out of the academy, whether it's college kids, whether it's players we try to acquire from the U.S. setup - MLS - or whether we look to someone from Europe. We're looking everywhere and anywhere within the constraints that we work with."
Although the departure of Holgersson leaves New York with only three center backs – veterans Jamison Olave and Ibrahim Sekagya and untested U-20 international Matt Miazga – Petke sounded content with the current group, emphasizing that he expects to add at least one more center back to provide depth.
“We’re not looking for a starting center back,” Petke said. “We’re comfortable with what we have … We’ve got Olave, who is the best pure defender in the league, and then we have Sekagya, with all the experience he has, and then Miazga, with the high hopes we have … if not immediately, then in the near future.”
The offseason, Petke’s first as head coach, has also allowed for more preparation – Petke said he and his staff expect to map out training sessions farther in advance this season, even though he is “a last-minute guy … going back to high school” – and some learning. On his recent trip to England with Roxburgh, Petke said only 1 percent of what he learned pertained to on-field topics.
“I picked up a ridiculous amount of preparation stuff, behind-the-scenes stuff, player management,” Petke said. “A lot of that reassured that I did things correctly this year with my staff, and … half of it was very fresh, new ideas that I liked.”
Fresh, new ideas are exactly what Petke brought to the organization one year ago, and another dose of inspiration could serve the club well in 2014.