When the Red Bulls signed Gonzalo Veron during the summer transfer window not much was known about him. Fans who had been hoping for another goal scorer to support Bradley Wright-Phillips, or a playmaking midfielder, didn’t seem to understand the move, but since the team was doing well, it didn’t generate the publicity accorded to a designated player.
Besides, since the Red Bulls had become the talk of Major League Soccer and were playing a high-energy, entertaining style, their fans were happy again. Veron’s time would come, they figured. Why mess with a good thing?
At the time of the signing, Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said “We think he fits into the style that we want to play. He is a young, exciting player with the ability to play a few different attacking roles. He has the potential to be a dynamic player in this league.”
Red Bulls Sporting Director Ali Curtis was equally excited about the move.
“He has played for one of the top teams in South America (San Lorenzo) and has shown he can play any of the front four positions,” Curtis said at the announcement. “Not only are we getting a player who can help us immediately, he is someone who fits well into our long-term plans for our club.”
Veron was signed Aug. 5 and four days later he made his Red Bulls debut, playing the final four minutes of a 2-0 victory over New York City FC at Red Bull Arena. A week later, he played 10 minutes of a 3-0- whipping of Toronto FC, also at Red Bull Arena.
There was media speculation that after two appearances off the bench, Veron would be inserted into the starting lineup the next game. The Red Bulls had a bye in the schedule and Veron would have two weeks to train before the Aug. 26 game against the Chicago Fire in Bridgeview, Ill. After all, he was a designated player who made more money (roughly $200,000) than a number of starters.
But Veron’s time never came. He remained one of Marsch’s first attacking options off the bench, usually coming on for midfielder Mike Grella, but he rarely made an impact. Fans began to wonder if the team had made a mistake, and to give him DP money only compounded the problem.
“The team came in with a process since preseason with a different style of play, and I hope I can start from zero next preseason and earn my spot,” Veron said through an interpreter, goalkeeper Santiago Castano, at the team’s final gathering on Monday following their playoff elimination at the hands of the Columbus Crew the night before.
“As soon as I knew there was interest in New York I started to investigate a little bit more about the league. I knew it was a dynamic league, a fast league, a quick style of play. I never thought it would be this quick for 90 minutes. I have to have it in mind that the team’s been working the whole year with this style of play and I want to come in in preseason and give it my best to have a chance for next season.”
Veron, 25, came from a good background. He was signed by Argentine club San Lorenzo in 2012 and a year later the club won the Primera Division’s Torneo Inicial, the first tournament of the season. In 2014, San Lorenzo won the Copa Libertadores, with Veron coming off the bench in both legs of the final.
San Lorenzo also advanced to the final of the Club World Cup in 2014, but lost in the final to Real Madrid, 2-0. Veron started that game and played 57 minutes before being replaced.
With the Red Bulls, Veron started just two games. He played 62 minutes in a 2-0 victory over the Timbers in Portland Sept. 20, and 61 minutes in a 2-1 loss at Toronto FC Oct. 14. For the season, Veron played in 13 games (321 minutes) and had one goal and one assist.
But if fans were wondering if perhaps management made a mistake in signing Veron, listen to what Curtis and Marsch had to say at season’s end.
“We’re very happy with Gonzalo,” Curtis said. “He’s been here for three and a half months and the one thing that happens, you know we brought him into a very strong team, and so we said when we first signed him is that we felt we were operating out of a position of strength. Gonzalo, he matches a lot of the characteristics in terms of what we’re looking for in terms of a style of play perspective.
“He’s just getting his feet in terms of where we are, transitioning into the market, moving from South America to the New York metropolitan area, and as he gets acclimated a little bit more he gets to know his teammates a little bit better, he gets a preseason under his belt, we feel that those types of things will translate on the field.
“Gonzalo’s been a healthy and positive contribution to the locker room (and) he'll continue that. He’ll only get stronger, he’ll only get better as he learns our system, as he learns our teammates, so we’re looking forward to Gonzalo contributing in an even more meaningful way next year. He’s been here for three and a half months. It’s been tough as it’s difficult for any new player transitioning into the market from a different continent.”
That was the case last season with defender. Damien Perrinelle. He arrived in July of 2014 and played just seven minutes in two games, but this year earned a starting berth in the preseason and you could make the argument that he was the Red Bulls’ best defender this season.
Veron did not know that about Perrinelle, and it seemed to make him feel better when he was told his teammates’ story. He also felt he needed to get used to Major League Soccer.
“I never thought about that. Damien came in the same situation,” Veron said. “The games are a lot different than Argentina, but it’s going to come in time.”
Marsch was equally happy with Veron, and said he expects his midfielder to be a big part of the team going forward.
“I think acclimating is one aspect and then the other part is that he has come into a good team and he's handled himself really well,” Marsch said. “There are big expectations anytime you sign a DP and everyone wants to see those players make a big splash. Well, our team was in a really strong state and a lot of the investment in Gonzalo is for now, but is also for the future, and so I know it hasn’t always been easy on him to not get the opportunities that he would like to have.
“I've talked with him about what the expectations are, how to continue to contribute every day, how to continue to adapt, but I think he’s done all that well and next year we'll see more from him. He’ll be more of a major contributor.”
Veron was happy to hear those comments as well.
“The confidence of Ali and Jesse, I feel it,” he said. “Obviously it’s tough being a soccer player and wanting to get some minutes and not getting the minutes you want, but that’s the decision the coach will make. I respect that. I just hope to come in next year and give it my all, but I appreciate the confidence that Ali and Jesse show in me.”