UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Following a summer splashy transfers, the Red Bulls may finally have made the signing that will put them over the top when they added central midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy on Tuesday.
In his fifth year, Ballouchy was tied for the team lead in assists with five in 19 starts for Colorado. That's the kind of production Hans Backe was seeking, and the Red Bulls head coach said that he hopes Ballouchy will act as the "missing link" between New York's midfielders and the forwards.
Since the World Cup, Backe had been hinting he was in the market for a central midfielder and was reportedly looking within Europe. Though one of those options proved to be holding midfielder Rafa Márquez, Backe first noticed Ballouchy when he made a substitute appearance in the US Open Cup.
The Rapids then visited New York on Saturday for an MLS fixture, which the Red Bulls won 3-1. Ballouchy started for Colorado and hit the post in the second half. He was marked in the game by the midfield pairing of Tony Tchani and Márquez, who was full of praise for his new teammate.
WATCH: Ballouchy hits the post
“He’s a technical player,” Márquez said of Ballouchy. “He handles a good ball.”
Ballouchy called it “a dream” to be feeding balls to the likes of Thierry Henry and Juan Pablo Angel up top and working with Marquez in the midfield.
Like Márquez, Henry liked what he saw of the player on Saturday.
“As you saw on Saturday, the way he plays, he wants the ball,” Henry said.
Ballouchy was in New York when he got news of the trade, having stayed the weekend to visit family in the area. While he admits to having heard the rumors of a deal, he says the extended weekend was planned in order to spend time with a cousin in the city.
He has seen his new team grow over the past year from a last-place laughing stock to a club near the top of the table and called New York “very organized,” something they weren’t last year.
“That’s what impressed me so much,” Ballouchy said of New York’s turnaround. “That must be the coach’s work.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012