After a recent announcement that Mike Petke, who started the season paired with rookie standout Tim Ream at centerback, would be retiring at the end of this season, Seth Stammler, only 29 years old and contender for sweetest shot from distance this year (Rafa Marquez would also be a nominee as would Dane Richard if you include exhibitions/friendlies), announced today that he will be leaving the Red Bulls to pursue an advanced degree at the University of Chicago. Stammler has earned respect on and off the field for his play and his commitment to humanitarian work through the Sporting Chance Foundation. He will be a missed presence for the Red Bulls for sure.
To fill the void and address a possible lack of depth in the midfield, the Red Bulls also announced today they would be trading forward Mac Kandji, who recently announced that he would not be pursuing U.S. citizenship and therefore would not be eligible to play for the US Men's National Team (I know Bob Bradley is desperate for another striker but can't believe that Kandji was on his radar). In return, the Red Bulls will receive midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy from the Colorado Rapids. Once upon a time, Colorado traded away Kyle Beckerman to obtain Ballouchy, so he was a bit of a disappointment to many Rapids fans. But a fresh start with a new coach who has shown he can bring out the best in his players (i.e. drastic improvements in Dane Richards and Bouna Condoul) and being surrounded by one of the most dynamic mix of attacking players in MLS could be just what Ballouchy needs to flourish. Look for him to be a regular coming off the bench to replace a striker if the Red Bulls are ahead or add an additional attacking option if they are playing from behind.
Some have expressed concern that without Kandji, a major void will be left at forward next season if Juan Pablo Angel is not offered a contract renewal as a Designated Player, which at this point is widely expected. That doesn't mean, however, that he won't resign with the team as a non-DP, very much like Guillermo Barros Schelotto did with Columbus despite being one of the top contributors to the team. The Red Bulls have promising young forwards in Connor Chin who played well during US Open Cup qualifiers as well as Juan Agudelo, who features for the United States U-20 national team. Salou Ibrahim also remains on the roster, but if you've ever been within 1000 feet of me during a Red Bull games you'll know my thoughts on his lacking pace and first touch.
If Angel does indeed leave, look for the Red Bulls to use their third Designated Player spot for another threat up top to pair with Henry. A slew of options at midfield also could lead to a formation shift from the typical 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 with Marquez and Tchani playing behind Richards, Lindpere, and Ballouchy. The Red Bulls organization has shown it is willing to invest the money necessary to build a competitive club team that will be a real threat in US and international club tournaments for at least the next couple of years.