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RBNY Sporting Director wants to be at "forefront" of MLS scouting

Ali Curtis discusses how the team decides to bring in players, what they are looking for, and confirms he did travel to South America to scout Gonzalo Veron.

Since taking over as Sporting Director, Ali Curtis has worked hard to bring in talent from around the world to bolster the team. In 2015, the team has added foreign players Anatole Abang, Gonzalo Veron, Kemar Lawrence, Shaun Wright-Philips, and Ronald Zubar, all of whom have impacted the MLS side in some capacity this season.

In addition, the Red Bulls have brought numerous international players on trial such as English-born Philippine international Luke Woodland, Cameroonian Hassan Ndam, and Jamaican Junior Flemmings.

This is no coincidence.

Speaking with Once a Metro, Ali Curtis says that the team has identified "key areas," worldwide that the scouting team has pursued in the effort to be " at the forefront of MLS in terms of scouting."

"Those areas [we've identified] are a mix of traditional and non-traditional markets," Curtis said to OaM.

"It’s important that we are innovative, creative and hardworking, because, while it’s great to have a plan and an identity, without good players that are high quality people, it is difficult to perform well and win in MLS.

"But, if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that we still have a lot of work to do in terms of the development of our scouting efforts."

Curtis says he is "involved" in the scouting process, sometimes personally, but makes sure not to "micromanage."

"At the end of the day, it’s my responsibility to sign off on every decision that occurs on the sporting side of the club," Curtis said.

"Our head scout Rob Elliot does a good job of identifying players and building relationships. At the end of the day though, our team first philosophy manifests itself not just in the way we play and the culture of the locker room, but it also plays an integral role in how we make decisions and talk about various potential players."

Outside of the traditional European markets, two areas where Curtis has focused efforts are the Caribbean and South America.

Gonzalo Veron was the first Designated Player from South America for the Red Bulls since Juan Pablo Angel in 2007, and some recent signings from the region (Digão and Juninho Pernambucano from the 2012 and 2013 Red Bulls) have not worked out as the team had hoped.

"South America has a tremendous amount of talent, and we will continue to keep tabs on players and what’s happening in that region," Curtis said.

"With Gonzalo, I was involved and I did travel to South America."

As for the Caribbean, Curtis sees MLS as a natural landing spot for the area's top stars. He says in his playing days playing against Andy Williams, Damani Ralph, Tyrone Marshall and Onandi Lowe, showed him how much talent comes out of the region. During Curtis's time in the MLS front office, the league set up a draft combine for Caribbean talents, and he believes "players from the Caribbean view MLS as a place they could have a great soccer career."

"Kemar Lawrence has been tremendous for us this year," Curtis added.

"We absolutely hope that his development sends a message to the region that the Red Bulls can be a destination for Caribbean players.

Regarding if the team has a specific policy to who they bring in for trial, Curtis said he would not describe it as "an open door," but they make sure to have conversations with the player's agent to communicate salary expectations, positions of need, and roster constraints to do their due diligence.

If everything works out, Curtis says trials are arranged for times when " we have few games during the period, so that we have enough quality training sessions and have enough time to get to evaluate the player on the field and also get a sense of what he is like as a person."

The players on trial usually spend time with the senior team before the Red Bulls decide if they are going to be signed. If all goes well, the club can sign them for the senior team, or - as of this year - they can join the USL squad New York Red Bulls II. Curtis also notes that NYRB II has created an important stage for trialing of players emerging from RBNY's academy.

For Curtis and the rest of the front office team, the MLS roster freeze means it is unlikely any new signings - foreign or domestic - will be announced for the New York Red Bulls until the off-season, but the team has already started arranging trials for preseason.

As the flow of trialists into RBNY training throughout the season illustrates, the business of building a team is ceaseless. But, like so many other aspects of the organization, the Red Bulls have fashioned a plan and a methodology they intend to use to achieve and maintain a leadership position in MLS.