Despite the team falling short of its Major League Soccer ambitions this season, New York's Thierry Henry believes another player spending spree is not the answer to the Red Bull's shortcomings.
With the departure of top scorer Juan Pablo Angel into free agency, the Red Bulls will be left with the Henry and Mexico midfielder Rafael Marquez as their only designated players, one short of the Major League Soccer limit. But both Henry and coach Hans Backe said Thursday that throwing big money at a third designated player should not be the main objective of the offseason.
"It's not about stars," said Henry, the $5.5 million former Arsenal and Barcelona forward who was limited to two goals in 11 games as he battled fitness problems and a bruised knee. "The teams are the stars. When you look at the semifinals, those are the teams that have played together for two, three years.
"This team was kind of a fresh team. The teams that are making the final are the teams that have been playing for a while and have been playing together throughout the season."
The Red Bulls will be depending on Henry to return to training camp next year at full strength and replace Angel's team-high 13 goals. Backe said it is also possible that the $5.4 million Marquez, a settling influence this year at midfield, will be moved back to center back, where he feels more natural.
"I have no problem playing there," Marquez said. "Whatever the coach wants."
That, plus the retirement of midfielder Seth Stammler, will leave two holes in the midfield. But Backe said he would not push for a high-priced international star to fill either role. They tried that this year and fell in the quarterfinals to San Jose by a 3-2 aggregate score.
"To take the next step, we'll need three or four starting quality players," Backe said. "That's definitely enough."
But when asked if finding another international star is necessary, Backe said, "As it looks now, perhaps we'll stay at two."
Difficulty in finding top-flight international players willing to change continents is part of the problem, Backe said. But he also said the Red Bulls have a solid base in personnel and playing style.
With people like Henry and Marquez coming back — along with 17-year-old forward Juan Agudelo and rookie defender Tim Ream — the makings of a championship contender are already there in Backe's eyes, and in Ream's.
"We can always improve," said Ream, who played every minute of every game. "We had some defensive lapses in that last game. But we have the pieces to go far, and we could bring in a couple of guys next year that will help this team out."
Agudelo and Ream will also bring additional international experience, having been called by the U.S. national team for next week's friendly against South Africa.
Meanwhile, Henry just wants to make sure he's ready to go. Rest, not a new, high-priced feeder up front, will help the 33-year-old become the scorer the Red Bulls expected when they signed him at midseason.
"The only thing that can help me is being fresh and healthy," Henry said. "I'm not one to tell a team to get this guy or that guy."Reuse content