New York Red Bulls and Josh Sims: Talent is important

New York Red Bulls, Josh Sims (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
New York Red Bulls, Josh Sims (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

New York Red Bulls’ Young Designated Player, Josh Sims, has returned to England following the expiration of his loan deal. It leaves the team bare of talent, and while the Red Bulls rely on their coaching and infrastructure, at some point, that matters.

For the New York Red Bulls, the last two seasons have seen a steady decline in the talent in the team. From the brilliant Supporters’ Shield-winning 2018 team that set the record for points in a regular season before Los Angeles FC smashed it out of the park last year, the squad has rather suddenly disintegrated, so much so that they are largely not considered a member of the MLS elite anymore.

The Red Bulls finished in sixth place in the 2019 season. For all of the discussion revolving around Sporting Kansas City’s disastrous fall from grace from the 2018 to 2019 seasons, the difference in their points tally was -24. the Red Bulls points tally was -23 points, just one better. And given the context of Sporting KC’s campaign, including several crucial injuries that ravaged Peter Vermes’ squad, the Red Bulls’ fall is far more poignant.

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It stems from their losing talent. The Red Bulls believe in their system, the infrastructure of the club, their ability to develop young talents through the New York Red Bulls II, and excellent coaching. And the organisation is one of the best in MLS at all of these broader aspects of running a football club. They are widely and justifiably applauded for this. But their neglect of talent has seen the team depreciate in quality, and now the latest in a long line of high-level players has departed without a clear replacement.

This summer, Josh Sims returned to Southampton after his six-month loan deal expired. Sims initially signed last summer on a six-month loan before extending that another six months in the offseason. Due to COVID-19, he played just two matches in that second six-month loan stint, both from off the bench. Sims returns to England and will not partake in MLS is Back, as Sporting Director Denis Hamlett explained in a statement:

"“In light of the ongoing effects of the global pandemic and all of the uncertainties that remain, we understand Josh’s wishes to be closer to home and have come to an agreement with Southampton to recall the player.”"

Sims was a Young Designated Player. His departure leaves just Kaku as the Red Bulls’ only Designated Player in the squad. Given how MLS has evolved in recent years, the extra spending that the DP slots allow is critical to building an elite team. The best teams in the league have exploited the three roster slots to their advantage. Meanwhile, the Red Bulls cannot even fill them, nevermind extract value from them.

The Englishman is the latest in a long line of high-level players to leave. Luis Robles and Bradley Wright-Phillips both left in the offseason. Both starting full-backs, Kemar Lawrence and Michael Murillo have both gone, too. And then the biggest departure of all was Tyler Adams, who was the midfield lynchpin of that brilliant 2018 team.

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There is only so much a coaching staff and club infrastructure can make up for. Talent matters and, at some point, you have to acquire it. The Red Bulls have neglected it for too long, and now they are paying the price.