Yet again, the New York Red Bulls couldn't have timed it worse. Claudio Reyna is going to retire -- not surprising and long expected, considering how injury-plagued the former U.S. national-team captain's 1½ seasons in MLS were.
First, the good news: Reyna's retirement frees up the Red Bulls' Designated Player slot, which had been effectively wasting away as Captain America just couldn't stay healthy (Juan Pablo Ángel occupies the team's second slot, which it traded for last season). That gives New York coach Juan Carlos Osorio an enormous toy to use as he continues to rebuild the biggest underachievers in the history of MLS (13 seasons, zero titles).
It's no secret that the Red Bulls need their own version of David Beckham and Cuauhtémoc Blanco in the U.S.' most important market, and they need one fast. MLS' New York franchise isn't only suffering on the field, it's far from the "superclub" MLS has dreamed of fielding since its inaugural season. About the only time the former MetroStars come anywhere close to filling Giants Stadium is when Beckham and the L.A. Galaxy, or FC Barcelona, are in town. The sparse crowds of 5,000 need to stop, as does the losing.
The latter problem is Osorio's to bear. And I still believe he can do it. His midseason makeover of a team that was more or less built by Bruce Arena will eventually produce attractive, Latin-flavored soccer. But the other problem -- the awful Q rating -- well, that's Red Bull's problem.
Jozy Altidore is officially gone -- the teen sensation left for Spanish club Villarreal last month. Now, with Reyna out of the way, it's time for Red Bull to puts its money where its mouth is and go hard at the biggest name it can get its hands on. Thierry Henry is a real possibility (though probably next summer). Andriy Shevchenko is another name that's been floated. Ronaldo's still out there, too, as is Mexican star Jared Borgetti. Dreamy possibilities, to be sure.
Now the bad news: The Bulls missed the boat. Or more specifically, they missed the Titanic. Until Tuesday, an even bigger option was out there: Ronaldinho (above right). There is perhaps no bigger name in the world that was legitimately available to MLS. The two-time FIFA World Player of the Year finally ended his drawn-out transfer saga, agreeing to a $30 million transfer from Barcelona to AC Milan.
No matter what you think of him -- overweight, over-partied or just plain over -- he may be the best player around to put rears in seats in this country. And, in fact, he's already done it: Giants Stadium was sold out when 'Dinho and his former club played the Red Bulls in a friendly two summers ago.
Where were the Red Bulls during the Ronaldinho saga? Milan and Manchester City spent the past month driving up the Brazilian's price tag. If, as it has been reported, the Bulls knew Reyna's retirement was an eventual outcome, why didn't they throw everything they had at convincing Ronaldinho to make an earth-shattering move to the U.S., perhaps bigger than even Beckham's?
Maybe they did and maybe they were rebuffed by another high-profile player who wasn't quite ready to take a leap of faith on Major League Soccer. The point here is, the Red Bulls need do something big, and they need to do it soon. They've got the money, they've got the marketing power and now, there are no more excuses. Dare to dream, as they say. (Actually, it was a former Red Bull who told us that once.)
What's done is done. There are other options out there. Regardless, Reyna just gave the Red Bulls a huge gift. He rid his team of its biggest albatross: himself. Now it's up to the club to get a celebrity that will make the casual sports fan care. Because right now, no one's watching.