Stressing he “can’t make emotional decisions,” New York Red Bulls sporting director Denis Hamlett said the decision to part ways with club legends Luis Robles and Bradley Wright-Phillips set up the Red Bulls to be in “a good position that we can bring players in to make this team stronger.”
Combined with the retirement of longtime defender Connor Lade, the Red Bulls have slashed a little more than $2 million off their books entering a critical offseason.
There’s also two Designated Player spots open — one that previously was not occupied a year ago. The Red Bulls can make a significant splash in the transfer market.
But will they?
“We don’t want to just look at the specific roster designation,” Hamlett said in a conference call with reporters Thursday. “I think what we want to look at and focus on is find the right players that are going to make our team better. In that process if they happen to be a Young DP or a DP or a TAM level, we’re going to have the resources to go out and get those players.”
The Red Bulls have been criticized for being particularly frugal in recent years, looking inward at players in their system rather than test the waters internationally.
Homegrown talent Omir Fernandez and Brian White and Tom Barlow, who came through Red Bulls II in the USL Championship, are the biggest examples.
Kaku, as the club’s only current Designated Player, Cristian Casseres Jr. and Mathias Jorgensen, are the exceptions. But the Red Bulls have been relatively quiet, while others around MLS spend millions.
Hamlett notes the decision made last offseason to make slight tweaks to a team that won a third Supporters’ Shield in six years and reached the Concacaf Champions League semifinals.
At the club’s season-ending media availability, Hamlett praised Sims integration into the club and the winger expressed a desire to return for the 2020 season.
On Thursday, Hamlett said that remains a possibility despite the loan ending.
“We’ve had some positive discussions with Southampton in trying to bring him back so we’ll make sure we continue to have those discussions going forward,” Hamlett said.
In recent weeks, defender Aaron Long has been linked with a possible move to Southampton, although Hamlett said “I don’t spend my time with the rumors,” when asked about the possibility of the USMNT regular’s offseason transfer.
“Aaron is under contract with us for next season,” Hamlett said. “What I would say is, if there are offers for our players, we will consider them individually, assess them, and figure out if its the right decision.”
Hamlett identified the type of player he was hoping to bring during the offseason, while not specifically mapping out where on the field the Red Bulls were looking for additions.
“We like young players, we invest in young players and develop young players and give them opportunities to step on the field and show what they can do,” Hamlett said, adding the importance of “players that are going to fit the way we want to play, are going to be good guys in the locker room leaders, guys that are leaders and guys that are winners.”
Citing the club’s inconsistency in 2019, Hamlett said adding depth across the field was also vital. It’s one reason, he said, Michael Amir Murillo’s option was picked up even though the Panamanian international lost his spot late in the season with coach Chris Armas preferring Kyle Duncan at right back.
“Murillo is a talented player. We’ve seen that in the short period of time he’s been here at our club. Our goal is to make sure we have competition across the board,” Hamlett said. “This is something we’re trying to make sure when we build the roster for next season, I’ll give my coaching staff and the head coach competition at every position and he can choose what player steps on the field.”
It it shaping up to be a busy, and vitally important offseason for Hamlett, entering his fourth year on the job. A growing number of frustrated Red Bulls fans have voiced displeasure over the job Hamlett has done in that role. He looked to reassure supporters after the disappointment of 2019.
“They should have confidence because we’ve made the playoffs in 10 consecutive seasons, in my time here we’ve had two Supporters’ Shields, an Open Cup run,” Hamlett said. “We’ve had success, we just haven’t had the ultimate success, which is the MLS Cup. At the end of the day, there’s only one team that can end up winning it and that’s a hard thing to do it.
Trust me, we are at it, trying to get to the place where we can bring that trophy here.”