Op-Ed: RBNY Should Sign Vermaelen To Bolster Defense

It’s no secret that Red Bull New York has a dearth of central defenders. With only three centerbacks on the roster, manager Jesse Marsch has even had to put Sal Zizzo, a midfielder, in the most crucial position in front of Luis Robles. The team has acknowledged their pursuit of an additional centerback when the international transfer window opens on Saturday, July 1st.

“The search is probably taking on an international flavor but we’re also evaluating what is out there,” said Marsch back in May. “We’ll see, we’ll see what’s available, we’ll see in the short-term as in before May but also the potential in the summer window.” Since that time, the need has only become more glaring.

Both Aurelien Collin and Damien Perrinelle have suffered injuries this year that required them to miss matches. Only rookie Aaron Long has been a constant fixture in the lineup. The 24-year-old has been sensational; ranking third in the league with 100 clearances. More importantly, he’s been durable; playing all but 49 minutes this year. However, he’s still young and can’t be expected to play every remaining minute of the season. They need to add to their defense.

It may seem counterintuitive to suggest that the Red Bulls pursue a defender with a lengthy injury history, but Thomas Vermaelen would help them with both the depth chart and defending set pieces. For the Belgian international, a move to MLS may be a way of finding something that has eluded him over the past seven seasons; significant playing time.

While injuries have crippled him since his 2010/11 English Premier League campaign with Arsenal, he managed to stay healthy this past season with Roma, but was unable to find playing time due to his struggles on the pitch. After making only seven starts in two years due to injuries at FC Barcelona (during which time he won nine trophies with the club), the Catalan side loaned him to AS Roma for free this past season in the hopes of getting him playing time.

During his first match with the Italian club, a Champions League playoff, Vermaelen took two yellow cards within 41 minutes, tanking both Roma’s European dreams and his hope of becoming a regular in the lineup. He never found his way out of the manager’s dog house after that, playing only 388 minutes in nine matches.

Roma will not exercise their option to buy him when the loan expires on June 30th. It’s safe to assume that Barcelona (who have him under contract until 2019) will be looking to get him playing time once again.

MLS can offer that to the 31-year-old for the second half of the 2017 season, and beyond. Due to his lack of playing time, Barcelona would, once again, not charge for a loan spell. Though the Red Bulls have all three Designated Player spots filled, the league’s financing quirks will likely allow them to fit Vermaelen on the roster (see: de Jong, Nigel).

If the story of a former Premier League defensive star, who has rotted on Roma’s bench, coming to MLS to reignite his career seems farfetched, look no further than the LA Galaxy’s Ashley Cole. Two years ago, the Englishman couldn’t buy playing time in Italy’s capital. Now he helps anchor one of the best defensive lines in the league.

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