As New York Red Bull players returned to Hanover for their year-end interviews and medical evaluations last November, one player left shocked at the feedback he received.
Thursday afternoon, a Red Bull press release revealed why.
New York announced they had come to a mutual agreement with Swedish defender Markus Holgersson to terminate the final year of his contract and sever ties for the 2014 season.
“After speaking with Markus following the conclusion of our season and taking into account our salary cap situation, we mutually decided that it would be in everyone’s interest for us to part ways,” Red Bulls Sporting Director Andy Roxburgh said. “Markus indicated to us that he is ready to take on the next stage of his career and we want to thank him for his service to the New York Red Bulls.
“Markus, an excellent professional, has been an important part of our club and defense for the past two seasons, helping us win the Supporters’ Shield in 2013, and we are very sad to lose him. We want to wish him the best of luck.”
As Roxburgh indicated, money was the central issue. Holgersson was set to make $250k in the final year of his guaranteed contract. That would put the Red Bulls in a tight spot at season’s end with three well-paid, starting caliber centerbacks on the team — including Ibrahim Sekagya, 33, who brings with him a championship pedigree and the veteran presence New York sought for most of the 2013 season.
Despite a poor showing in the playoffs, Red Bull brass still rated the Ugandan defender over the man fans affectionately dubbed “The Last Viking.” The development of Matt Miazga also helped force the issue. The team is quite high on the rookie defender, who has become a regular with the U.S. U-20 team.
Nevertheless, sources close to Holgersson say he was shocked the team would try to “force him out” of his guaranteed deal at seasons end. The Swedish defender wanted to finish out his time in New York — especially after overcoming so much adversity in the 2013 season to earn his keep. His self-described “finesse” style of play from the centerback position put him at odds with rookie coach Mike Petke who sought a more physical, intimidation-centric style from the heart of his defense. Holgersson adjusted and fought to earn his starting position back, eventually playing the perfect foil to the truck-like defending of Jamison Olave.
“That is the kind of player Markus is,” one sourse said. “Resilient. All class.”
He not only took hold of the starting spot, but managed to adjust his playing style to the liking of Petke in doing so. When called upon, Holgersson, 28, even reverted to his once-natural fullback position when wing-defense options ran thin.
His nimble play and team-first attitude earned him respect in the locker room.
“Even if he wasn’t American, we considered him to be part of our ‘American” core,” one former teammate said.
Holgersson was the second longest-tenured defender on the Red Bulls roster. Roy Miller remains the team’s longest reigning player.