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Signal Intel: Branding, Pornstaches & Panamanians in the run-up to NYRB v Fire

We ask Tzvi Machlin of Once a Metro the really hard questions, as one does

D.C. United v New York Red Bulls
Is the Pornstache crucial to Kljestan’s effectiveness, or nah?
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Hot Time: So it turns out that part of Ralf-ball is ruthlessly re-optimizing the roster mix without much regard for the feelings of the people involved - how's that going down with Red Bulls supporters? And how does it seem to be working out? The question I'm getting at, I guess, is 'Were they right to deal Dax?'

Once A Metro: There's a motto among Red Bulls supporters: "Love the team, hate the brand" - and the Dax trade is a big reason for that. For years there has been a strong sense that Papa Red Bull really doesn't care that much about how the fans feel as long as they can keep getting money from them (they're basically the Konami of soccer).

This fanbase has a lot of pride in its team's history and loves its players like family, but the higher-ups don't seem to share our passion - and that disconnect is going to be reflected on the bottom line sooner or later.

Regarding the move itself, at the time the move seemed reasonable because the team was looking to get younger, had two players at his same position (Sean Davis and Tyler Adams) who desperately needed minutes or were at risk of leaving for nothing, and because Dax was coming off a terrible performance in the MLS Cup play-offs. However, the move only made sense assuming the brass had plans to spend the money they got on a game-changing player IMMEDIATELY.

But they didn't - they held onto just about all of that cash they got from the trade, despite knowing that they only had it temporarily, and the team didn't make any significant additions that were able to step in and play as soon as they arrived.

Nobody was expecting Zlatan or Wayne Rooney to walk through those doors (okay, maybe a few crazy people did), but we would have liked to see our big name defensive midfielder replaced with someone who at least had the name recognition and veteran experience to come in and help lead the team to glory.

Instead we got a few loanees and lots of angst.

It will take a LOT of silverware before the fanbase forgives Papa Red Bull for trading Dax. But hey, if the Fire win the MLS Cup because of Dax maybe they'll think twice before trading players of his caliber again.

HT: Fidel Escobar isn't this guy's real name, is it? Clearly this dude is in witness protection, and the agent that put the paperwork through has some kinda sick sense of humor. Lemme guess, you've got Ché Capone coming through the academy, too. Getting to the point, this defensive trio are strictly no-names - can you get us up to speed on why they're working as a unit, or why they aren't?

OaM: If you're referring to Aaron Long, Michael Murillo and "Pablo Castro" (i.e. Fidel Escobar), then boy, have you had your head in the sand this year. [EDITOR’S NOTE: There’s no sand in my ass, but no way for Mr. Machlin to know that.]

Let's start with Long. He's the reigning USL Defender of the Year and was a huge factor in NYRBII getting the USL Trebel last year. He had big shoes to fill in replacing Ronald Zubar and seems to have done so with ease. He's been probably the most consistent centre-back the team has had all year - and he's certainly the healthiest (*knock on wood*).

Murillo and Escobar are loanees from Panama and have chemistry dating back to their academy days. Murillo was picked up on a one-year loan in the winter while Escobar joined on a 1.5-year loan deal this past winter.

They have been teammates on the Panama national team for a long time and both proved to be star defenders for Los Canaleros during the 2017 Gold Cup. So it was good to see that Murillo and Escobar worked so well together when they both got the start against NYC FC last month.

In terms of pure talent and energy, these three guys have what it takes to be special - but their lack of experience has held the team back in far too many cases this season. The good news for us is that their play has been so strong that they're likely going to have plenty more starts on the horizon so they can get some.

HT: Is Sacha Kljestan the best MLS player ever nicknamed 'Pornstache?' Is Kljestan's nickname actually 'Pornstache?' If not, why not? If he objects in some way, why does he wear a pornstache? (Also, talk about how Kljestan makes it happen for Red Bulls, if you'd like.)

OaM: Listen, if Kljestan is going to continue to wear and groom that ugly thing, then he has no right to complain when people start calling it like they see it - and Pornstache sums it up pretty nicely. I will say this though - the best soccer he's ever played in his career has come since he started wearing it, so maybe it's some kind of Samson's hair thing where if you cut it he loses his power...

As for Kljestan's on-field ability, he's a chance-maker: He controls the ball, finds open lanes for either maneuvering himself or passing the ball to open teammates for optimal chances inside the box. He doesn't have the leg strength of a guy like Michael Bradley or Sebastian Lleget to be dangerous from any distance, but his footwork with the ball is second to none, and when he has the right players in front of him - i.e. Bradley Wright-Phillips - he is as dangerous with the ball in his possession as any goal-scorer.

Thanks again to Tzvi Machlin for answering our questions - and check out my answers to Tzvi’s questions here on Once a Metro!