The New York Red Bulls global scouting network, and specifically the hiring of Paul Fernie as head of scouting, is paying dividends with the recent signings of Danish goalkeeper David Jensen and English right back Mandela Egbo, according to Red Bulls sporting director Denis Hamlett.
“I think this is a big benefit of having that as a resource for us and we’re taking full advantage of it and bringing in the right players,” Hamlett told Pro Soccer USA during an exclusive interview. “We’re excited with this, and I think it’s only going to get better. We’re looking to continue to build off that and bring more players in.”
That is music to the ears of many in the club’s fanbase who have been frustrated with the Red Bulls’ relative inactivity, especially internationally, during the offseason.
Hamlett was quick to point out Major League Soccer’s primary transfer window hasn’t actually opened yet — it will Feb. 12 — and the Red Bulls will actively try to improve their roster.
“We feel that we’re in a good position, both in terms of our scouting network and the players that we want to bring in have been identified,” he said. “More important, we have the budget space that we could bring players in because we’re in a good position with our salary cap.”
Hamlett said ideally the club would have “22 starters” and competition at every position. That’s what he feels the Red Bulls accomplished by signing Jensen, a 27-year-old who has appeared in more than 200 professional games in Europe and was a three-year starter at FC Utrecht in the Dutch Eredivisie.
Hamlett said Jensen came highly recommended from Fernie, who spoke to scouts in the Netherlands and was already familiar with the goalkeeper.
“We felt confident in terms of the pedigree, where he’s played and what he has done,” Hamlett said. “I think from our time spent talking with him, he is genuinely a good guy, has a good character — team guy.”
Hamlett said the signing wasn’t a slight on Ryan Meara, believed to be the heir apparent when goalkeeper Luis Robles signed with Inter Miami CF as a free agent in December. But it was clear the Red Bulls prioritized depth at the position. The club acquired Kendall McIntosh, 26, in Stage 1 of the MLS Re-Entry Draft and brought in Max Bramley on trial, a 22-year-old Leicester City youth product who left a week into preseason.
“We have a lot of confidence in Ryan Meara and Ryan has this opportunity,” Hamlett said. “But our job is make sure that if it’s three goalkeepers we’re going to carry, it’s the best three goalkeepers we could possibly have in MLS.”
Egbo, 22, fills another need at outside back. He could push for immediate minutes at a position that was a revolving door last year between Michael Amir Murillo, who transferred to Belgium’s RSC Anderlecht in December, Kyle Duncan and rookie Rece Buckmaster.
“We feel like he’s a guy that’s going to come in here and get running,” Hamlett said. “He has the sort of the physical makeup that we think is important in a right back. When you combine that with the games he’s played, that makes us really excited at the opportunity to get someone with his potential to come over to be part of our team.”
Egbo came up through the Crystal Palace academy and made 84 appearances for Borussia Mönchengladbach II before his move to SV Darmstadt 98 last July. Minutes were tough to come by in the 2. Bundesliga, but that didn’t dissuade Hamlett, who said Fernie previously tracked Egbo in his role as head of recruitment for SV Wehen Wiesbaden in Germany.
When Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas went to Germany to spend time with RB Leipzig during the winter break, he watched Egbo play in a scrimmage and had dinner with the London native.
“Chris came away impressed with Mandela and [Fernie] thinks he has what it takes to play in our league, so we’re excited to get him on board,” Hamlett said.
Although neither player had been on the field much for their previous clubs — Jansen lost his starting spot to Dutch international Jeroen Zoet, who arrived on loan from PSV Eindhoven — Hamlett said both have that combination of youth and experience he thinks makes them a perfect fit for the Red Bulls.
“When you look at both of these players, what sort of stands out differently: We paid a little bit more attention to bringing in players that are still young but now have professional games under their belt,” Hamlett said. “It’s not just a young kid coming in, it is someone now that’s a little more seasoned, someone with a great pedigree that has come through the ranks.”