When the 2012 preseason opened for the New York Red Bulls, there were a lot of questions that had to be answered. No one knew the club’s plans after a season that looked disjointed and at times looked disgraceful – especially after the end of their first leg quarterfinal at home against the eventual MLS Cup champion Los Angeles Galaxy.
As the silence was getting louder, slowly but surely the pieces were starting to take shape, and certain parts were returning to give a sigh of relief. Estonian midfielder Joel Lindpere signed a multi-year contract extension; Stephen Keel was given a new contract to fill depth for the backline.
But there was a shock during the MLS SuperDraft this past January. The Red Bulls made a draft day trade with the Portland Timbers for striker Kenny Cooper. Apparently this move was made as English striker Luke Rodgers had issues renewing his visa (approval was recently granted).
Add to that the lingering ankle injury which will cause lost time for Juan Agudelo, and bringing in Cooper could be a nice pairing up top with Thierry Henry (currently on loan with Arsenal). Head Coach Hans Backe is well aware that Cooper is not simply a target striker; he can score on the ground as well as in the air. On trial right now with the club is former FC New York striker Jhonny Arteaga who scored thirteen goals in USL Pro.
The back line was strengthened with the addition of two tall central defenders, since Tim Ream transferred to Bolton Wanderers in the EPL. Enter Swedish defender Markus Holgersson and former Chicago Fire defender Wilman Conde, who wanted to move here when Juan Carlos Osorio left the Fire. After a stint with Atlas of the Mexican Primera Division, he finally got his wish.
Home grown defender Connor Lade, who started with the Red Bulls academy and spent his college years with St. John’s of the Big East, was signed to a contract. Reports from preseason training have been positive, and he has impressed the coaching staff.Clifton,New Jersey native Jonathan Borrajo has returned from playing inNorway and will also push for starting minutes.
But the two or three big question marks the team is facing right now are: 1) goalkeeper, 2) Rafa Marquez and 3) will they bring a creative midfielder during the summer transfer window?
In terms of the goalkeeping issue, Frank Rost has decided to go back to Germany as his contract terms were only for a few months. Jeremy Vuolo was signed but some feel he is a backup. Drafted Fordham man Ryan Meara is a 3rd stringer. If the club can’t find a true number one and Vuolo can impress enough to take the job, it will be an interesting season if he can mirror what Tally Hall did with the Houston Dynamo in his rookie year.
As for Marquez, after everything that was reported (including by me) about the possible departure of Mexican National Team Captain Rafa Marquez, he has returned to the club and he is getting serious about the 2012 season. He has said that reports about a move to either Club America or Flamengo were false, and that he is ready to erase the problems of last season. Reading those reports, it appears that Marquez is ready to get back into the good graces of the supporters and the club.
Overall the Red Bulls look like they are going to rebound from a season where lingering questions were supposed to be answered, but instead became questions anew. Can Hans Backe have faith in his bench, or will that problem come back to bother him? Those questions will be answered on Sunday, March 11th.