Red Bulls striker Dante Vanzeir is introduced by coach Gerhard...

Red Bulls striker Dante Vanzeir is introduced by coach Gerhard Struber during a news conference on Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. Credit: Newsday / Ryan Gerbosi

HARRISON, N.J. — Few Major League Soccer clubs are truly one player away from competing for a championship. And few players are gifted enough to push a team to that next level.

But if New York Red Bulls coach Gerhard Struber is correct about Dante Vanzeir, the 24-year-old Belgian just might be that guy.

“This is the missing link of what we had in the last seasons,” Struber said.

The Red Bulls introduced Vanzeir, their newest Designated Player, during the club’s media day Tuesday with Struber clearly bullish on his newest offensive tool.

“He has a special ability, a big nose for goals,” Struber said. “We have not always had the right position or the right nose for goals, but we now have a player right now who has that.”

Vanzeir arrived from Europe on Sunday, receiving a hero’s welcome from a group of Red Bulls fans waiting at baggage claim. He said he might not do “the most crazy things” on the pitch, but what he lacks in flash, he’ll make up for in dedication.

“I’m a guy who’s hard working, I give my very best every time and I think I will help the team by creating chances and working hard for the pressure and scoring goals, hopefully,” Vanzeir said.

Vanzeir proved himself a prolific scorer in the Belgian First Division, netting 43 goals in 2 ½ seasons with Union SG, and expects to eventually replicate that success in MLS.

“I’m realistic, but also ambitious,” Vanzeir said. “I think without putting pressure on myself, I think 15 goals in a season as a striker is a good number and I’m aiming for that every year again.”

The Red Bulls’ striker situation has left much to be desired in the last few seasons. Bradley Wright-Phillips carried the load for RBNY in the 2010s, scoring a club record 106 goals over seven seasons. Wright-Phillips was not re-signed after 2019, and the Red Bulls have relied on a hodgepodge of scorers since, with Lewis Morgan proving the most productive with 14 league goals in 2022.

Adding a 15-goal effort from Vanzeir to the output of Morgan and others would be a boon for the Red Bulls, but the Belgian understands he has much to learn about his new club and league before promising too much.

“I think I’ll need some time to adapt to the culture and the time difference and to a lot of things, and I think everybody at the team will understand that,” Vanzeir said. “Once I’m feeling good on and off the pitch, I will do my very best to help the team.”

Vanzeir practiced with the team for the first time on Tuesday. Fullback John Tolkin said his new teammate has assimilated seamlessly.

"This was my first day meeting him," Tolkin said, "and I already feel like he’s been here forever.”

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