Red Bulls lacking midfield options as regular season approaches

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By most accounts, the New York Red Bulls have had a dream offseason. They have added a number of veterans with MLS experience, disposed of some big contracts and a malcontent Designated Player, and signed an American to be their head coach.

As much retooling as they have done, the Red Bulls still have a glaring hole as the new season approaches and it is one that needs to be patched soon.

Depth in the midfield is likely currently an area of concern for new head coach Mike Petke and the rest of his coaching staff, as New York currently have a dearth of options there. Projected starters Tim Cahill, Dax McCarty and Juninho might make up one of the more talented midfields in MLS, but there are question marks aplenty when talking about who follows them in the pecking order.

Recent second-round pick Ian Christianson is expected to make the Red Bulls’ roster but more central midfield back-ups will be needed for the grueling MLS season. There are several trialists, including Nicki Patterson and Ruben Izquierdo, and other rookies in camp with the club but none should be considered locks to make the roster, let alone contribute right away.

Things are not looking much better out wide. With Joel Lindpere shipped to the Chicago Fire, the right-footed Lloyd Sam is the only natural outside midfielder the Red Bulls have and there are even questions surrounding his durability after he suffered a pair of injuries during his brief time with the club in 2012.

New York did acquire Ryan Clark and Michael Bustamante in the recent Supplemental Draft, but both are still unsigned and might not be offered contracts unless they prove their worth in the New York’s two preseason camps.

The Red Bulls do have versatile players who could fill in out wide, such as Connor Lade, Roy Miller and recently-acquired Fabian Espindola, but none of them seem like long-term solutions. A case could be made for Lade to see serious time on the outside, but that does not seem likely given Petke’s preference for the youngster.

“Where do I think his best position is? I liked him at outside back,” said Petke of Lade during the MLS Player Combine earlier this month.

That leaves the Red Bulls with a dilemma. With the season fast approaching, the club needs to find some able bodies to bolster their depth or risk entering the season undermanned.

The good news for the Red Bulls is that they still have time to identify some players and try to bring them in prior to their season opener. The bad news is that failing to do so might erase all the success they have enjoyed in other areas this offseason.

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29 Responses to Red Bulls lacking midfield options as regular season approaches

  1. Lazio Curva Sud says:

    Juninho – – Barklage
    McCarty – Christianson
    Pearce – Holgerrson – Digao – Lade

    • Georgie says:

      Wrooooong. Where’s Lloyd Sam? Where’s Henry? Olave is freakin huge, by size alone there is no way Digao will start over him.

      And Meara’s probably going to reclaim his spot, but I’d like to see Robles take back what he earned last season.

      • James J. says:

        And Barklage moved to RB last year and established himself as the clear starter! He is no longer a midfielder. Lade is a super sub off the bench and is very versatile so he can play any position from outside back to outside mid. And why is Ian Christianson in the starting lineup!?!? The guy will be lucky to make the bench!

        • James J. says:


  2. Dan in New York says:

    I always thought Connor Lade was far more suited as an outside midfielder than a defender. I wonder why Petke sounds hesitant to slot him there.

    • slowleftarm says:

      Yeah seriously. That comment has lowered my confidence in Petke. Lade was absolutely dreadful as a full-back last year. Probably the worst player on the field in most games when he played there.

    • drew11 says:

      Lade is a squad player at best available to fill in as needed. Any first team line up with him as a starter is not good news.

      • Goose says:

        I guess you guys didnt see the game against Houston where lade was all over Big Mac. He was so fustrated with Lade. Lade is great back left so much better than Miller. Only thing he lacks is height but he makes up with heart.

  3. Nate Dollars says:

    nyrb lacking ‘midfield options’ is like man city not having enough strikers. laughable. but then you think about it, and it seems almost reasonable. and then you laugh again.

    • James J. says:

      They have only 3 midfielders who have played a single minute in MLS! Tim Cahill, Lloyd Sam, and Dax McCarty. Of course Juninho will slot into the starting lineup no problem but we still lack a single LM! And no depth to speak of outside of the rookies and trailists who will probably only make the team due to the scarcity in the position.

  4. Colin says:

    Looking at either a centralized 4-3-3 or, perhaps playing Juninho as a false wide midfielder ala early Beckham.

  5. Nocky says:

    I agree they are thin at midfield but if you look into their situation it’s not all that bad. I think they are going to play a 4-2-3-1, Dax and Cahill are going to man the midfield with Espindola wide left, Sam wide right, Juninhho in the middle, and Henry the lone striker. I am convinced Lade and Barklage are going to be the back-up wide players as well as the back-up outside backs to Kimura and Pearce. Like I’ve said they are thin but they have a lot of guys who can play multiple positions.

  6. dan says:

    This article assumes they are playing a 4-4-2 and by who they are buying that is a stupid assumption.



    • James J. says:

      No, no, no! Henry played the LW position in Barcelona and it took him a year with the Red Bulls to regain the goal scoring he had at Arsenal. Besides he’s lost a lot of the speed he had at Barcelona to play that LW position. Also, Lade is not a defender and if he is, he’s a backup for Brandon Barklage.


  7. Conrad says:


  8. Adam M. says:

    The Red Bulls lack midfield options like a good 5-man pitching rotation lacks a spot starter and maybe long relief guy in the pen. They have two top line starters (Cahill and Juninho) and solid third (Dax) who was arguably their MVP last year, two quality spots at 4 and 5 (Sam and Espindola), two proven relievers who can start in a pinch (Pearce and Lade), and up and coming rookie (Christianson). Not to mention their world class closer (Henry) often finds himself there as the game goes on. Yes, Kaka or some other massive upgrade to Sam or Espindola would be wonderful as massive upgrades always are Yes, you can never have too much depth. Yes, injuries are always a potential problem. But Red Bulls enter the season with at least 7 proven players who can start in mid — that’s not exactly “lacking options.”

    • James J. says:

      Espindola is a forward. Never has he ever played in the midfield and moving him out there probably wouldn’t help. Pearce is our LB!!! Backe made the mistake of moving him around to CB and even defensive mid for a couple games, which hurt his form. Keep him at his preferred position and he will thrive in MLS. And to call Christianson up and coming before he has played a single game is a huge stretch!

  9. Sabella says:

    We lack a left winger. That is all.

    • James J. says:

      Plain, simple, someone who gets it. I’m worried that since we haven’t gotten rid of Roy Miller and he can’t defend if the team will try to move him there. #Nightmares

      • Andrew says:

        We do lack a LM…and a backup for the LM and a backup for Lloyd Sam who has had trouble staying healthy his whole career.

  10. scott47a says:

    Amazing lack of respect for Espindola in a lot of these predictions. And the one guy doesn’t even pick Olave on his roster, which is serious laugh-out-loud material for a player who is a top 5 MLS defender.

  11. Caca Prout says:

    We can give you davy arnaud and justin mapp. Please take them. We need to make room for real players from real football countries.

  12. Joamiq says:

    I don’t see the Red Bulls’ midfield as a debilitating problem. This team is built for a 4-3-3. Espindola, Henry, and Cooper up front. In which case Lade, Cahill, McCarty, Juninho, and Sam, is an OK group in midfield. You’d certainly like to add another experienced midfielder for cover, but you can go to war with this group. Especially if Chistianson can contribute.

  13. Champion says:

    james j i assume you are evaluating the talent in sarasota or playing armchair head coach freezing your ass off in new york. in the center of the park christianson has been playing well in camp. very good soccer mind and in shape. looks like to me ian is making the transition rather well and i am evaluating from sunny florida. peace out