Preseason is usually a time for new acquisitions and a chance to build upon the strengths of a core roster and shore up weaknesses and build depth.
The New England Revolution did that a week ago with two new international centerbacks in Antonio Delamea and Benjamin Angoua. The New York Red Bulls traded Dax McCarty to Chicago for all of the allocation money in the MLS, or something like that.
So preseason is going swell, and we chat we our good friend Austin Fido of Once A Metro to talk about said McCarty trade and other preseason happenings. Make sure to check out their site for answers to my questions as well. The Revs and RBNY will play a preseason scrimmage/match later today from Arizona.
1. Soooo...you guys traded Dax McCarty...ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR DAMN MINDS!?!?!? Defend your boy Ali Curtis.
I'm not even sure if Ali Curtis is the right guy to blame. By the time this is published, maybe we'll know where he is - but it seems increasingly likely that Curtis hasn't been a functioning part of RBNY since around January 12 - which was before the Dax trade.
The club's line on the Dax trade is very simple: they were offered value for a player on a big contract and they have a big pile of younger options ready to be tested with MLS starts. So Dax had to go. Two days after his wedding. The day after he turned up at USMNT training for the first time in two years.
Doesn't sit well with me for a number of reasons, so I won't defend the club. Every trade that is ever made is in the name of improving a team - at least in the mind of whoever agreed the deal. Sean Davis and Tyler Adams are ready for more minutes. Chicago threw a decent amount of cash on the table for Dax. I get why RBNY did it. I just don't agree that it had to be done or even that it couldn't have been done in a manner slightly less insulting to club captain and all-time appearances record holder.
But you asked me to defend Ali Curtis, which is slightly different. It seems obvious that he is effectively no longer at RBNY. That confirmation might have dropped by the time anyone reads this. The biggest surprise of a surprising off-season will be if Ali pops up as RBNY sporting director again.
We assume Ali is gone. The question that may never be answered is WHY he is gone. One rumor is that his departure was precipitated by an argument with Jesse Marsch over which of the team's starting defensive midfielders to trade in January. It was choice between Felipe or Dax, says the rumor, and the choice was made to flip Dax out.
That is really the only gossip that has been offered to explain why a sporting director of rare competence (for RBNY) has abruptly quit the scene. So let's pretend it's true for another paragraph or two.
If it's true, it suggests to me that Ali didn't make the Dax trade at all. Felipe is widely believed to be Jesse's guy: they were together when Marsch was in charge of Montreal, and one of the first things that happened when Jesse landed at RBNY was the acquisition of two players he already knew and trusted - Felipe and Sacch Kljestan.
After Marsch told 442's Paul Tenorio that he regretted the way the Dax deal went down, some have interpreted that to mean he wasn't behind it and Ali's apparent ousting is the hammer of Jesse's anger falling on his (former) colleague. That doesn't add up to me. If Ali and Jesse had a falling out over the Dax trade, I assume the one who actually wanted that trade to happen is the one who is still around. And Ali does not seem to be still around.
So to defend Ali Curtis on this issue is simple for me: he didn't trade Dax, Jesse Marsch did.
2. Okay, so RBNY have homegrowns seemingly everywhere, including a whole team of them in USL, but what's the weakest part of the senior roster right now? Aside from McCarty will there be any serious changes to the starting lineup in 2017?
There are two obvious weak links in the squad at the moment. One is the CB spot next to Aurelien Collin. It looks like there are four candidates for it: Gideon Baah, Damien Perrinelle, Aaron Long, and (in a real pinch) 18-year-old Hassan Ndam. The latter two are unproven as MLS starters, the former spent most of last year being injured. So the bodies are there, but we need to see the season get underway to really trust that we're not walking into another CB injury crisis again.
The other area of concern for me is the second striker position: either alongside Bradley Wright-Phillips or backing him up from the bench, depending on the formation we use. It looks like Gonzalo Veron's to lose right now, but that was also the case last year - and then we lost Veron to injury and never really found our way back to where we had wanted to be. Jesse Marsch is back on the 4-2-2-2 bandwagon for preseason this year, and Veron should once again be important to it. But we already saw what happens without him last year: we can't make the formation work, we go back to 4-3-2-1, and then Veron doesn't really have a role at all. So the position Veron plays, and the ability of someone - anyone - else in the squad to play it too is important to this second effort to get RBNY into a 4-2-2-2.
I think for most RBNY fans, however, the concern is right back. My sense is Jesse Marsch is very comfortable picking between Sal Zizzo and Connor Lade for the start there. He's shown he trusts either, and is happy enough to go with whichever of them seems to be in best form. A not-small section of the fan base is, I think, less sold on Zizzo in particular. But Marsch seems like he has his guys for that spot, though he's also trying to use preseason to develop other options.
3. A few New Englanders should be familiar with Boston College's Zeiko Lewis, what have you seen from RBNY's first round pick so far this preseason? Any other rookies having a good showing in camp?
Zeiko has not gone unnoticed: that Draft Day speech was epic and magnificent. He's played close to an hour for RBNY in preseason so far, and had a promising moment or two. He has largely looked like someone getting to grips with both new teammates and a new system. That is to be expected. I'd hope the Red Bulls find a way of getting him under contract and into a season with NYRB II. The guys he's competing against for a roster spot have mostly spent at least a year playing together in USL, and it shows in their chemistry and understanding of their roles. He has looked a step behind them so far - but again: this is based on less than 60 minutes of playing time in preseason.
We actually don't have too many true rookies to the squad around at the moment: most of the younger players have been with the II team for a while. Of the true rookies, midfielder Arun Basuljevic is tipped for a bright future. And keep an eye on Ethan Kutler: he's being asked to convert to right back by RBNY. He might have the best shot of any of the 2017 rookie class of actually winning first team time if he figures the position out.