Manny Perez still wearing green

What may have flown under the radar last week was that Manny Perez, on loan from Celtic to North Carolina FC in the USL has been picked up by Portland Timbers FC of MLS and loaned to the MLS expansion club Austin FC.

Celtic loanee Manny Perez has been picked up by the MLS’s Portland Timbers and loaned to Austin FC, a new club in America’s major league. (Photo credit: Austin FC)

The Texas club announced last week that they had acquired the 22-year-old on loan from the Timbers for the 2021 MLS season in exchange for Austin FC’s 2023 natural third-round draft pick, with the option to trade for the player’s permanent rights at the conclusion of the 2021 season. Additional conditional General Allocation Money could be delivered to Portland based on performance benchmarks.

“Manny is a player with great potential who is motivated to make an impact, and we are pleased to welcome him to the Austin FC family,” said Austin FC sporting director Claudio Reyna in a release by the club.

“I feel blessed and honored to be part of Austin FC,” Perez said. “I look forward to giving my best on the pitch for our fans, my teammates and coaching staff.”

Perez was on loan from Celtic to the USL Championship’s North Carolina FC for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. With North Carolina FC, Perez made a total of 25 starts in 37 appearances, scoring one goal and contributing five assists.

The North Carolina State University and North Carolina FC Youth Academy product spent two collegiate seasons with the NC State Wolfpack, being named Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Freshman of the Year in 2017 and earning All-ACC honors twice while in college.

On an international level, Perez has played 12 matches with the U.S. Youth National Team, making five appearances, and scoring two goals with the U-18 team. He has had six appearances and scoring a goal with the U-20 team, and made one appearance with the U-23 team.

Perez was part of the 2018 U-20 Concacaf Championship team, which secured qualification to the 2019 U-20 World Cup in Poland.

Though he’s not in the Hoops, Austin FC’s home kit is green, as is Portland’s. So with that in mind, good luck, Manny!

Mon the Hoops.

Exercise your right to vote

As this season’s dumpster fire draws to a close while we wait to see who’s actually going to manage Celtic next season — not to mention that it’s once again Glasgow Derby weekend — it might be a good idea for a small diversion in the form of season superlatives.

Hence, it’s about time for Celtic’s Player of the Year, Goal of the Season, and Young Player of the Year. It’s pretty simple, and the process starts by going here and voting.

How did I vote? Glad you asked.

Player of the year

This one is easy.

Zander Clark.

Just kidding.

Actually, it was a bit difficult. In a lackluster year, you might think it would be difficult to pick a standout. But that’s not the case, since each of the nominees had their bright spots during the course of the season. Not only this, for me it came down to two Norwegians.

Sorry, Mohamed Elyounoussi, but I had to go with Kris Ajer this year. Ajer has been a rock in the Celtic backfield this season, and admittedly he’s been very versatile in filling the spaces when advancing the ball forward into the opponents half. In fact, why Ajer doesn’t do this more often is a mystery, but his solid play this year earns him the nod from this voter.

Kris Ajer, my choice for Player of the Year.

Goal of the Season

This is a tough one. So many good choices here: Odsonne Edouard dribbling through the entire population of Reykjavik — OK, five or six KR Reykjavik players — or James Forrest’s goal against Motherwell to break his dry spell, or even Ismaila Soro’s launch from a few miles out against Dundee United. Unfortunately, my favorite goal of the year doesn’t count because, technically, it belongs to last season: Edouard’s penalty looping over Craig Gordon and Hearts in the previous year’s delayed Scottish Cup final.

But perhaps the best of this bunch is Mohamed Elyounoussi against Lille. Of all the good candidates in this bunch, any time you get the goalkeeper to do his best impersonation of a statue while the ball hits the back of the net is a feat in and of itself. Nice one, Moi!

Young Player of the Year

I hate to say it, but it can be successfully argued that we can see how our young players are developing by watching the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer stateside this season. There’s Cameron Harper, Andrew Gutman, Patryk Klimala . . .

Bitter? Me?

OK, now that this is off my proverbial chest, my vote went to Stephen Welsh, a Celtic Reserves player who made his mark on the club without having to actually leave the club, playing solid defense since his call-up to the first team. Welsh has a bright future with the Hoops, and I hope he can prove that the Celtic Reserves can produce players that stay with the club.

Again, here’s the link to cast your ballot. How did you vote? Post in the comments below.

Mon the Hoops!

Welcome to New York, Patryk

Well, at least it’s now official: Polish Paddy becomes Broadway Paddy as the New York Red Bulls of the U.S. Major League Soccer signs Patryk Klimala to a multi-year deal, the third Celtic player to join the Big Apple club this season.

Patryk Klimala, who never really got to show his talent at Celtic, scored three goals and one assist for the Hoops during his tenure with the Bhoys.

“We’re delighted to complete this deal and welcome Patryk to our club,” said Red Bulls’ head of sport Kevin Thelwell in a press release. “Patryk is a talented young forward who has proven that he can score goals and create in a variety of ways. We believe he has the ability to impact games in MLS now, and the potential to continue to grow and succeed in years to come. We look forward to welcoming him to New York and getting him acclimated to our club.”

Klimala, who had limited playing time at Celtic, scored three goals and had one assist for the Hoops, and he joins former Celtic players Andrew Gutman and Cameron Harper in New York.

New York Red Bulls head coach Gerhard Struber welcomed Klimala to the club with high praise.

“I’m very happy with Patryk’s decision to join us,” Struber said. “At both the club and youth international level he has shown that he has high potential. He demonstrates a strong work ethic against the ball, which is very important to our style of play, and has very good instincts around the goal. His movement and ability in the final third give the team another weapon.”

Klimala signed a four-year MLS contract with a club option, the New York Red Bulls announced Thursday, filling a Young Designated Player and international spot on club’s roster.

A club statement from Celtic stated, “Everyone at Celtic thanks Patryk for his contribution to the club and wishes him every success in the future.”

The Hoops are reported to be recouping the 3.5 million pounds they paid for the Poland U21 international, who came to Celtic in January 2020 from the Polish club Jagiellonia.

On a personal note . . .

Like Cameron Harper, Patryk Klimala should have been part of Celtic’s plans going forward. He was one of the several members of the first team ready to come off the bench and make his mark, only to be pigeonholed and given only limited playing time. He showed a commitment to the club by working hard in the COVID “offseason” with his noticeable efforts in strengthening and conditioning, and he always showed huge potential in those chances he had to play. My hope is that he thrives with his former Celtic teammates in New York, and there’s every indication that he will.

Mon the Hoops!

Polish Paddy to Broadway Paddy?

Patryk Klimala could join former Celts Cameron Harper and Andrew Gutman at New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer in the United States.

You have to hand it to the scouts at the MLS club New York Red Bulls: The backroom staff there certainly knows talent when they see it, and it comes as no surprise that they’re focus is on Lennoxtown and Celtic for quality players.

It’s my hope, with fingers crossed, that if Patryk Klimala — now being wooed by the Red Bulls — does go to New York, he goes as a loan and not as a full-fledged signing. But we will have to see.

Despite scoring only four goals since signing in January 2020, Klimala has a good future for whomever he plays for. Klimala has shown a commitment to Celtic, and I believe he can be an integral part of the club’s offseason rebuild.

But more importantly, is this merely a large U.S. club purloining Celtic players or could it be the advent of a potential partnership between New York Red Bulls and Celtic?

There are precedents that apply here when it comes to partnerships between MLS and European clubs. The most notable of these is Dallas FC’s partnership with Bayern Munich and the San Jose Earthquakes’ partnership with Tottenham Hotspur. So it begs the question: In light of the Red Bulls’ recent “interest” in Celtic players, would a partnership be a viable next-step?

It would be something for the board to look into.

International Break-ing Point

To be honest, the International Break drives me crazy. With no Celtic (or no anybody, really) to watch as the nations line up to qualify for the World Cup, the best I can do — after watching endless past games and the Broony DVD multiple times — is watch the bhoys play for their respective countries. If there is any consolation, it’s seeing things you don’t normally see when the Hoops play in the SPFL.

Like . . .

Norway. Why did it have to be Norway?

It seems that whenever I line up ESPN+ to watch whomever is playing at any particular time over the last week, Norway seems to be at the top of the list for broadcast. It could be worse, obviously, but it’s good to keep an eye on Kris Ajer and Mohammed Elyounoussi (not to mention watching the antics of Borussia Dortmund’s Erling Haaland). Overall both of the bhoys have been playing well for Norway despite the team’s lackluster results, especially Elyounoussi — I don’t have the stats in front of me, but he seems to have stepped up his game in the take-away department. Ajer, of course, has been the Viking enforcer in the back who does not fear taking the ball up the pitch when the space is available to him. We’ll have to see how it pans out for the Norwegians.

Oh no, Nir! Not again!

One reason — perhaps the main reason — I loathe the International Break is that Celtic players tend to get banged up in the process. Call it the “Tom Rogic Effect.” Once again, an injury rears its ugly head as Nir Bitton tore a groin muscle in the final training session for Israel before they started their games, and now he returns his injured self to the training table in Glasgow. To be fair, Bitton was not 100 percent when he was picked to play for Israel in the first place.

[As an aside, anyone watching the Israel-Scotland match notice how in-the-groove ex-Celt Hatem Elhamed was in defense? Pity he couldn’t stay.]

Kieran Tierney, assist king

Meanwhile, back at home — yours, not mine (over here in the States, we’re still fuming over the fact that the U.S. Men’s Team didn’t qualify for the Olympics, while waiting for some heads to roll) — the Scots under Steve Clarke seem to be holding their own in a group where they precariously hold on to second in Group F. The Scots pretty much had their way with the Faeroe Islands 11 yesterday, 4-0, thanks in large part to three assists by ex-Celt Kieran Tierney; all of which were beauties, and one of them which came from a cracking pass from Callum McGregor — pity there’s no stat for “assists-on-assists.”

It begs the question: Is there anything Tierney, the kid with the Tesco bag, can’t do?

Shocker: Edouard gets the penalty

Take notes, SFA: When you have referees who are not — how can I put this tactfully? — playing the 12th (or 13th or 14th) man on behalf of Glasgow’s other club, you get what can best be described as fair officiating. Proof of that, of course, is the call in France U21 game against Russia where Odsonne Edouard, who was clipped with the same intensity as he was in the Glasgow Derby, getting not a yellow card for simulation but a real, honest-to-God penalty kick, which he slotted away in his usual Edouard way.

Amazing, isn’t it? I’ve always said that there was much more to the SpecSavers’ sponsorship of the SPFL officials than meets the eye.

(Pun completely intended.)

One more thing . . .

Two actually: First, I caught the end of the Germany-North Macedonia game, with the Germans scrambling to draw unsuccessfully at the end of the match, which went the North Macedonian’s way 2-1. First loss at home for Germany in, like, forever, and a boost to the tiny landlocked nation just north of Greece.

Second, it looks like the MLS in the U.S. is starting to expand its scope of players loaned from European to American clubs. That is, when they are not signing them outright, as in the case of ex-Celts Cameron Harper and Andrew Gutman. News from Hamburg has FC St. Pauli midfielder Leon Flach joining Philadelphia Union, a rival to Harper’s and Gutman’s New York Red Bulls. Interesting note that Flach goes to Philly to join Stuart Findlay, who came up through the Celtic youth system and played with Kilmarnock before heading stateside.

Not the strangest MLS loan transaction, though. The winner of that one, so far, would be Sporting Kansas City’s acquiring Mexican player Dani Rojas on loan from AFC Richmond for, wait for it, a metric ton of barbeque sauce. Don’t believe me? Here’s the press release from SKC.

Wait a minute. Anyone have a calendar? Ah, that would explain it . . .

Anyway, can the break be over now? Mon the Hoops!

O Captain, My Captain

Though it’s neither the most iconic nor the most important photo in Celtic history, this is my favourite photo of Scott Brown, after winning the league at Rugby Park. And I also feel bad for Greg Taylor, too.

Without anything else to divert my attention — thanks, International Break — I have been mulling the departure of Scott Brown, the only captain I’ve known at Celtic as a fan, while both navigating the five stages of grief and speculating about what this move might mean for Broony, as well as Celtic, in the future.

I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist, and I don’t have any tinfoil hats that fit me well, but after processing the whole departure of the heart and soul of Celtic, I get the sense that Brown will be back: This player-coach stint at Aberdeen is just a warm-up and a “learning the ropes” for a future managerial stint at Parkhead.

It’s just a hunch, but there are precedents at play here.

The great Jock Stein ended his playing days at Celtic and later went on to manage Dunfermline Athletic and Hibernian before returning to Celtic and making history. The same for Tommy Burns, who left Celtic for Kilmarnock late in his playing career — serving as a player-coach (sound familiar?) for Killie — before returning to manage the Hoops.

Celtic captains and icons Scott Brown and Billy McNeill.

So while I am brokenhearted at the prospect of next season without Brown, as well as sad at the prospect that he will not get a proper send-off thanks to COVID-19, I do think we have not seen the last of this Celtic legend playing a role for the Bhoys.

And who takes the armband from next season? One popular debate is that it is up for grabs between Callum McGregor and Kris Ajer. Both would excel at the role of captain, but I would give the nod to CalMac — not to take anything away from Ajer, but McGregor has done it numerous times in Brown’s absence and he has a long history as a catalyst to the club’s recent successes; a history I hope continues until he hangs up his boots years from now.

In the meantime, there are bhoys playing for their national teams today — Ajer and Norway are hosting Turkey, and Jonathan Afolabi, Luca Connell and the Irish are hosting Luxembourg. Mon the Hoops on International Duty!

Red Bulls drinking up Celtic talent

I know there’s probably a joke in there somewhere about Red Bulls drinking up Celtic talent, as opposed to the other way around. But I can’t seem to formulate it, and to be honest, it’s probably best left unsaid anyway.

Andrew Gutman, shown here in training while playing for FC Cincinnati, is the 2nd former Celtic player to join New York Red Bulls for the upcoming MLS season.

However, the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer in the U.S. — after adding former Celtic Colt Cameron Harper — have bolstered their lineup with a second former Celtic prodigy in Andrew Gutman.

Gutman was added to the NYRB roster on loan from Atlanta United. After a loan spell from Celtic to FC Cincinnati through the 2020 season, Gutman was selected first in the MLS Reentry Draft by Atlanta United.

“We’re pleased to have Andrew join us,” Red Bulls New York’s Kevin Thelwell said in a club statement. “He has proven that he can play in MLS and has qualities that we think will fit well in our style of play. He is a solid defender, can contribute from wide areas going forward, and has the physical attributes to meet the demands of our system.”

The 24-year-old left back made 20 starts in 29 appearances with FC Cincinnati over a season and a half. He was an academy product of Chicago Fire FC before eventually signing with Celtic. He never made a first team appearance with the Hoops. 

Prior to turning professional, Gutman was a four-year standout at Indiana University, with 20 goals and 17 assists in 90 appearances for the Hoosiers. He helped IU to consecutive College Cup appearances in 2017 and 2018 and earned the 2018 MAC Hermann Trophy, awarded to the best college soccer player in the country.

New York Red Bulls manager Gerhard Struber had high praise for Gutman.

“Andrew brings good experience in MLS,” Struber said. “He is strong on the ball and has good awareness and intelligence going forward, which will help us build our attack and bring good decision making in the final third.”

Gutman brings the total of former Celtic players in the MLS up to three, joining Harper and Inter Miami CF’s Lewis Morgan, who was the club’s MVP last season. Mon the Hoops!

New Ghirl Mariah Lee ready to roll

As the Scottish Women’s Premier League gets set to resume next month, new Celtic signing Mariah Lee is equally as ready to pull on the Hoops and hit the pitch when Celtic takes on Glasgow City on April 4.

You can thank fellow American Sarah Teegarden for persuading Lee to join Celtic as one of four winter signings by coach Fran Alonso. After playing three years at Stanford University in California, Lee and Teegarden had both played for Wake Forest University in North Carolina — though not at the same time — and thanks to a phone conversation with Teegarden, Lee was ready to sign.

Lee explained in an article appearing on the Celtic FC website: “I heard about Celtic and knew about the name and recognition especially on the men’s side and then I was looking at the roster and saw Sarah Teegarden’s name, and we both played at Wake Forest. She’s a couple of years older than me, but I got her number and was talking to her on the phone about her experience and she spoke really highly of the club and the competition and I felt like it would be a good fit after hearing what she said. 

“She came back to college for a game I was playing in, and we actually had a lot of mutual friends so we met. We never played together, but it’s a small soccer world so I knew of her.”

Lee played for the OL Reign, formerly the Seattle Reign, in the National Women’s Soccer League in the U.S. The Reign, now are under the auspices of Olympique Lyonnais, has featured such U.S. National Women’s Team stars as Megan Rapinoe and former USNWT midfielder Allie Long.

Welcome to Glasgow, Mariah!

Getting back up, dusting off

So now that there is no mathematical path to the top of the table for Celtic — thanks to Sunday’s rendition at Tannadice of “The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight” — it appears that the season’s best for the Bhoys in Green would be second place in the Premiership table.

In the first COVID season, in a season without our 12th man in the stands for the most part, in a season fraught with injury and with a management style that, to put it diplomatically, was lacking, this is what brought us where we are today. And despite the chance for John Kennedy to stamp his authority on the team, he produced business-as-usual, like late, and arguably odd, substitutions (it’s way past time David Turnbull gets to stay in for a full game).

And today, we end up here: second in the table. And while Glasgow’s other club finally wins its first league title since its founding in 2012, their fans seem to have forgotten — if they even heeded them in the first place — each and every COVID protocol and have taken to the streets to celebrate both yesterday’s win against St. Mirren and today’s clincher in Dundee, undeterred by the authorities in Scotland who seem to prefer police escorts to reminding those outside they’re under lockdown.

Celtic FC won a quadruple treble, something that probably will never be repeated again.

Celtic has had a magnificent run over the past nine years, one that will not be repeated ever. Glasgow’s other club, only nine years in existence, can only dream about the accomplishments Celtic has had in the last couple of decades, or even the last nine years for that matter. As for the future, changes are on the horizon to be sure for Celtic, but the results next year surely will be the same as they have been in years past: success on the pitch going forward starting next season.

So they’ve won a trophy. Good for them, and congratulations. But bear in mind that it’s only one since 2012 to Celtic’s 18. Let me repeat that: Celtic has won 18 trophies, which includes four trebles in a row between 2016-17 and 2019-20, since their club’s inception.

Which of course means, this: No, I still don’t see them coming, and I probably won’t until they win a few more.

One more thing

It came as a DM on Twitter the other day, but it bears mentioning. It seems that I’m not the only Celtic fan blogging from California, since SentinelCelts also originates from the Golden State. Sonora, way east of here in an beautiful part of the state near Yosemite National Park, to be exact. Give the blog a read, and tell ’em Larry sent you . . . .

Mon the Hoops!

Looking ahead to next season

While the math is still there — barely — for Celtic to pick up 10 in a row, let’s put aside the contortionistic algebra on that one for a moment and take a look at what the next season may have in store for Celtic. To be certain, the team landscape, and the leadership on the field and in the boardroom, will look much different.

John Kennedy’s first start at the helm was an inauspicious 1-0 win over Aberdeen in a hard-fought contest. Would a stellar end to the season earn him the reins of the club for the following year? Not likely, and with all the candidates being bandied about like tennis balls whizzing over the net at Wimbledon, it appears that Kennedy is keeping the seat warm, so to speak, for whomever is coming in.

New manager

I’m going to go out on a limb and make this prediction: Next season’s manager will be Steve Clarke.

In an age of COVID — get used to that phrase, because the virus and its effect on society, in general, and football, in particular, changes the entire — spending will be tight. So when watching the budget is a matter of survival, as it is now, the more flashier names on the list that come with a high price tag are out the window. And that’s OK, as Celtic doesn’t have to go far for a replacement.

The hallmark of Scotland national team coach Clarke’s tenure at Kilmarnock was consistently having Killie punching above their weight, so to speak. Evidence of that is the downward spiral toward relegation the club has suffered after his departure. Clarke’s talent for motivation probably could have been used this season, but for next season he would have the bhoys primed and ready.

Should they stay or should they go?

Ideally, everyone should stay. They won’t, of course, but there’s always that hope.

Odsonne Edouard and Kris Ajer should be paid a king’s ransom to stay. However, there has been a lot of interest regarding Edouard, and lately Arsenal is the latest in a long line of clubs with interest piqued for Eddy, and AC Milan keeps badgering Celtic for Ajer. Clearly, with large clubs come large offers (even in an age of COVID) which might not be resisted.

However, we do have several options on this front. As mentioned ad nauseum in the past on these pages, Celtic has an artesian depth of talent on the bench and in the reserves, so we may be in good shape without having to make expensive signings — Conor Hazard and Stephen Welsh are proof that our Reserves produce excellent players for us as well as for other clubs, in the case of Cameron Harper going to the New York Red Bulls of the MLS, and wherever Karamoko Dembele ends up next season if it isn’t Celtic.

Patryk Klimala should get a good run for the rest of the season to see how he will fare up front, and my sense is that there’s a solid striker there. A tandem of Klimala and either Leigh Griffiths or Albian Ajeti clearly would not be the same as having Odsonne Edouard up front, but it might be adequate while we have goal scorers behind them in the midfield, like Mohammed Elyounoussi.

Bringing back Jonathan Afolabi and Maryan Shved from their loans would be a sensible option, especially since the latter has had his butt kicked by the Mechelin coach which has inspired Shved’s interest in playing again. His performance in Belgium has been fairly remarkable as of late and he may finally be reaching his potential.

The nucleus of a great team is here already, and it’s a tragedy that due to injury or poor game choices, this season has ended up the way it did. But there have been bright spots in the dark season as well: Jonjoe Kenny’s loan spell has been fairly remarkable, as has the play of Ismaila Soro. David Turnbull has proven he is a player to bulid a team around for the future. Add to the mix a fully healthy Mikey Johnston and James Forrest, not to mention a fully healed Christopher Jullien, and the future looks a lot better than it does now.

We won’t have the luxury of seeing everyone on today’s team in the Hoops next season. However, the potential is phenomenally high for next year’s team to put aside the dumpster fire this season has become and return to the top of the table, wire-to-wire.

Meanwhile, on to Tannadice for Sunday’s match against Dundee United. Mon the Hoops!