Newcomers Keita, Escobar Getting Worked into Squad Quickly

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By BRIAN TRUSDELL

Red Bulls logoWHIPPANY, N.J. — The latest additions to the New York Red Bulls have only been publicly known for 24 hours or fewer. But they’ve been training with the team for about a week and could be ready to go as early as Saturday against Montreal.

Central defender Fidel Escobar, 21, was announced Thursday as been having been acquired on an 18-month loan from Sporting San Miguelito in his native Panama, and the transfer of the Gambian-born Norwegian striker Muhamed Keita, 26, followed early Friday. The moves come amid a flurry of activity at the start of the traditional summer transfer window.

Keita, who emigrated with his parents from Africa to Scandinavia at a young age, has played for Norway at the U-18, U-21 and U-23 level. He began his professional career in his mid-teens at Norwegian club Stromsgodset but transferred to Lech Poznan in Poland in 2014. He spent a year with Poznan, however, and has spent the last two years back in Norway, bouncing between three clubs — Stabaek, Stromsgodset and Varalenga on a series of six-month loans.

During his first stint at Stabaek in 2015, under Jesse Marsch’s college coach Bob Bradley — who also was Marsch’s coach when he played for Chivas USA. That was where Keita caught the attention of the Red Bulls, or at least Marsch.

“I first became familiar with him when he played for Bob at Stabaek,” Marsch explained at Friday’s training. “So when I watched Bob’s teams, Keita was one of his special players. He played a lot of different attacking roles for him. So when we started about thinking about guys who could fit into our system and have the kind of quality we need right now, we thought he’d be a really good fit.”

Keita’s best year was 2016 when he scored a combined seven goals (four for Stromsgodset and three for Stabek) in 22 games. He had scored one goal in six games for Varelenga this year.

“He can play anywhere in the attacking part of the field and it’s mostly because he’s an intelligent player,” Marsch said. “He’s got some good physical qualities and he’s gifted on the ball, but he’s a smart, smart player.”

Keita joins a club that despite a five-game winning streak – including a pair of U.S. Open Cup wins – where it has outscored opponents, 13-4, still has the third-fewest goals (28) in the Eastern Conference.

Escobar’s Red Bulls connection comes via fullback Michael Murillo — who rejoined the team in training this week after his Gold Cup sojourn with Panama. Escobar played in three of Panama’s four games at the Gold Cup, including the quarterfinal loss to Costa Rica right next to Murillo.

Murillo is on loan from Panamanian club San Francisco, where Escobar began his professional career in 2012, and the also have spent time together on the Panamanian international youth squads.

Escobar played this past season in Portugal with the second-division club of Lisbon club Sporting, starting 12 of 14 games.

“He’s a good player. It’s a little bit tough with communication right now,” central defender Aaron Long said referring to Escobar’s limited English. “But we’re all working with him. He’s going to learn the system. It’s probably going to take a week or two, but he looks like a very good player, but good passer and good defender.”

Marsch said both could be available for Saturday’s game against Montreal. Keita, wearing No. 10 shorts, was seen taking corners for the second team during Friday’s training. Escobar was sporting the No. 29 shorts.

Additionally, the Red Bulls have brought in former local (Montville Township and Rutgers) hero Dilly Duka on a trial basis.

Duka, 27, a member of the United States’ 2009 U-20 World Cup team, was the eighth overall selection in the 2010 Major League Soccer draft by the Columbus Crew. He played three seasons with the Crew before being traded to Chicago in 2013 and then to Montreal in 2015. He returned to the Crew last year, playing in 15 games but was waived in January.