When the Red Bulls announced their pre-season roster last week, much of the focus was on the Miguel Ibarra saga that kicked up a bit of controversy between the Red Bulls and the second division Minnesota United, before we all realized we had the wrong Miguel Ibarra.
But with the Red Bulls set to play their first pre-season game of the year -- a closed-door scrimmage with the University of South Florida -- we should take a look at the rest of the players vying for a spot on the Red Bulls' roster.
In addition to the Ecuadorian Ibarra, the Red Bulls have brought in Ambroise Oyongo Bitolo and Tyler Polak as trialists and Widner Saint Cyr and Sammy Adjei, Jr. as potential homegrown signings. Those five are competing for four spots that will round out the roster ahead of the Red Bulls' season opener against the Vancouver Whitecaps March 8.
So, let's take a look...
Aside from having the same name (and birthplace) as one of the NASL's better young players, Ibarra is a much different player than his younger counterpart.
The 29-year-old Ecuadorian, has been described as an attacking-minded right back. He's got an American passport, by virtue of being born in New York, and has represented Ecuador in friendlies. He's been with Universidad Catolica in Ecuador's Serie A since 2010, but has spent a good bit of that stint on loan, both with Ecuador's Barcelona (the biggest team in the country) and Deportivo Quito.
Looks like he's got a good shot, and isn't afraid to pull the trigger. Then again, there wasn't a ton of defense being played, and the Ecuadorian Serie A is far from South America's most prominent league.
Ambroise Oyongo Bitolo
Bitolo is a 22-year-old Cameroonian left back, and while there isn't a ton out there about him, what I can find suggests he's played internationally at the youth level and has made senior team appearances. With his club Cotonsport FC -- the most dominant Cameroonian team of the last decade and a half -- he's been hailed as a "revelation" as early as the 2010-11 season. At the start of the 2013 season, he was expected to start at left back (if westafricanfootball.com is to be believed, anyway).
Polak is probably the best known quantity of the trialist class. He was part of the 2012 Generation Adidas class after a college career with Creighton. Heading into the draft -- where he went to the New England Revolution in the second round -- he was hailed as a reliable, shut-down left back who can get into the attack.
But that hasn't quite panned out. Polak made all of one appearance with the Revs in 2012, playing 30 minutes. He spent 2013 on loan with the Revs' USL affiliate Rochester Rhinos, where he was deemed to be important enough for the Revolution to recall him before their Open Cup match-up with the Rhinos, but not important enough to, you know, actually give him minutes. He was released after the 2013 season.
Clearly, coming out of college, Polak was well thought of by the league. That hasn't really panned out, but if the video above is any indication he didn't have a tremendous amount of offensive responsibility with the Revolution. What he does to above is not turn the ball over and play some decent defense.
Plus, that whole Generation Adidas thing? It's possible he still has that designation, meaning he will be exempt from the salary cap.
Widner Saint Cyr
Saint Cyr is a pretty interesting player. The University of Maryland product was born in Haiti, but went to high school in Rockland County and played in the Red Bulls' youth system. He's listed as a midfielder, but can, apparently, play fullback. Highlights suggest he might be able to play centrally, too.
The video evidence shows he plays with considerable flair and possesses some speed.
But he hasn't been the same player since "coming into his own" his freshman year in 2009. Since then, he's been redshirted for his sophomore year, then injured in his redshirt junior year. His senior year, he only made three appearances.
Though, his involvement in the Red Bulls' academy the team's brass know what they're dealing with better than anyone.
Sammy Adjei, Jr.
The Iona College product has had a pretty impressive college career. Adjei, a Ghanaian-American forward/winger, chipped in solid numbers of goals and assists in each of the three years he's played for the Gaels, but more impressive are the call-ups he's received. He's trained with Sheffield Wednesday, Derby County and Lille, and been in camp with the Ghanaian U-20 team and the U-18 and U-14 American teams. Also impressive, his numbers with the Red Bulls' youth set-up: 14 goals and six assists with the U-16 teams. He was hyped in this Big Apple Soccer profile in 2012.
As a player, it looks like Adjei has solid offensive instincts, and as a winger, isn't afraid to cut inside.
Being both a homegrown-eligible player and the only non-fullback trialist, I'd expect Adjei has a pretty good shot at turning pro out of camp.
But that remains to be seen. Any thoughts? Who do you think the Red Bulls should sign to a contract? Ibarra? Polak? Saint Cyr? Anyone?