Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Red Bull Blockbuster...Now with Context!

So, which one's Oyongo and which one's Felipe?
At one point during ExtraTime Radio’s January 26 podcast (about the 26:20 mark), one of the guys (think it was Andrew Wiebe) asked his co-hosts to name the four Eastern Conference clubs who would fail to reach Major League Soccer's still-lower bar for punching a ticket to the post-season (now 6 clubs of the 10). Red Bull New York's name came up, which isn't great. Things hardly improved when all involved agreed New York was screwed. Well, the Red Bulls made their bid to prove those haters wrong with a trade that strolled into the room with the word "blockbuster" one step in front.

Everyone knows the details by now: L'Impact Montreal shipped attacking midfielder Felipe Martins and their high (top?) allocation spot to Red Bulls in exchange for less-attacking midfielder Eric Alexander and promising left back Ambroise Oyongo. That was that, until today at least. For it was then that Red Bull confirmed that "allocation spot" was some bland code for "Sacha Kljestan." The question then was how the respective fan bases would take it all. That was pretty interesting...

From what I gather from a couple places, the social media freakout erupted over Oyongo's departure. Now, that's interesting because Oyongo is mostly potential – which is to say, the book on him weighs solid speed and flashy technical skills against some reportedly (visibly) dodgy defending. Regardless of where the shouting came from, losing Alexander means more to the Red Bulls. The man put in two solid seasons, with the second half of 2014, in particular, proving his value to the club. I watched New York enough last year to see this first-hand, whether it was pairing seamlessly in midfield with Dax McCarty or playing some slick shit in the final third with Thierry Henry. To flog a horse that (dirty pervert) likes the beating, more than a few people found the heart of St. Michael’s success (that’d be Mike Petke; get working on the fan-art, people) in the mid-season switch to the McCarty/Alexander central midfield. And that will be missed. Or it should.

But here’s the thing: I like Sacha Kljestan. Perhaps immodestly. I liked him enough during his first run in MLS that I sort of adopted Chivas USA (I pick up two, "foster" clubs most seasons). In so many words, once Kljestan’s name entered the conversation, it truly did become a case of “Eric...yeah, yeah, yeah. And Oyon...when's Kljestan coming now?"

In my memory of Chivas USA’s once-ever glory years, Sacha produced solid numbers, maybe even led the club in all relevant categories. Turns out my memory isn't great (or, rather, that it functions with some handicaps), but he definitely made the SuperClasico worth a shit for neutrals. And he looked good enough to a lot of very smart people that he built a nice career in Europe (hey, Belgium counts), and even played some Champions League ball (even if on a team about as likely to win it as your local rec team). So, that's good experience, certainly, and his numbers, such as they are, do compare favorably to Alexander's, a player I've always liked when he wasn't wearing a Timbers jersey. So, yeah, all in all, New York upgraded if one confines the comparisons to Kljestans to Alexanders.

On the subject of comparisons, Felipes don't compare directly to Oyongos. Between Oyongo's relatively small career sample size and the simple fact that I have never adopted Montreal as a club, I don't know much about either player. I can't really add to my second-hand reporting above on Oyongo and I have only people telling me that Felipe’s best year in MLS (and it was pretty good) came under Jesse Marsch. All in all, then, New York got a midfielder I rate pretty damn highly (Kljestan), plus an attacking mid who has done the proverbial business (NOTE: not a proverb) in MLS at least one. Montreal, on the other hand, got a promising left back and a smart, reliable midfielder who, given the right role, is quietly pretty damn good.

To rate it directly, I'd say New York came out better in the near-term; I suspect they did in the long-term as well, but do keep an eye on Oyongo. Maybe the vocally-aggrieved New York fans caught something the alleged smart-set missed.

To bring this thing full circle, did Red Bull do enough with these moves to make the post-season likelier than not? Probably not. Not (as others have argued) without a clear starter in central defense, or absent producing a suddenly polished gem and yanking it out of their backsides. They're probably spotty at forward as well. And they could use some depth on the flanks. Unless, again, they can find some great wide players when they're rummaging around the backsides for that starting central defender.

That only becomes more true when you consider the upgrades and promising moves made by the Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew SC, Toronto FC, Orlando City FC; not to mention where DC United and the New England Revolution start the season...

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