In December, the New York Red Bulls appeared to send the league a message when they signed seven homegrown players in a matter of days. The team made their intentions for the future clear. New York was an organization committed to youth development and their academy. New York was an organization that had a plan and was moving forward with local, homegrown players as their core.
Then in a surprise move last week, New York cut Mael Corboz. Scott Thomsen followed Corboz in being waived by the team. Now there are rumors that they'll cut Chris Thorsheim to make room for the signing of Cheik M'baye. (Update: in a lesson in timing, the Red Bulls waived Chris Thorsheim minutes prior to this piece being published)
What's going on here? Is New York giving up on their academy talent, giving up on their development pathways? Do they no longer believe in their long term plan? No, no, no, and no. In fact, this is expected, and for everyone making a big deal about it, it seems they weren't paying a lot of attention.
First, New York isn't cutting these players to make room for aged veterans to fill the roster, they're releasing them to make space for promising, young players they drafted or have had on trial through the preseason. In a league where your roster is capped at 28 players, tough decisions have to be made. Second, for the most part, youth development isn't a science.
In reality, youth development is largely a numbers game. You provide a certain level of training and professionalism, throw enough players at the wall and eventually, something will stick. Yes, some people do it better than others, and yes, having quality coaches and training facilities does make a difference. Not every homegrown player signed is going to be a Matt Miazga or Juan Agudelo, but if the Red Bulls can bring through a player of that type of talent every five years, they're golden. The rest of the players will vary in talent from bit part players, to depth options, to everyday starters who can't quite push on to the next level, and some will be cut. Some will never make the grade as a professional soccer player; that's inevitable, and that's okay.
It's entirely possible that Thomsen and Corboz may become crucial parts of the Red Bulls organization in the future. The team already has indicated that they'd like to keep Corboz onboard if possible, and it's likely Thomsen has also been offered a position on NYRB II as well. Whether they choose to take that spot in the USL is entirely up to them. Corboz's French passport allows him to explore options in Europe and Thomsen's uncle is a coach at St. Mirren in Scotland, which may open doors for him as well. What path they choose for their professional careers is up to them at this point, but to say their release from the New York Red Bulls is an indictment of New York and deviation from the team's path is plainly false.
By signing Corboz and Thomsen to Homegrown player deals New York simply kept their options open. These players were college seniors and likely would have entered the MLS draft had they not received an offer from New York, and by signing them to unguaranteed contracts the team effectively kept their rights while not making a full commitment. The team isn't ruining these kids future by signing them out of college early, paying them for a few months, and then cutting them. All the players on New York's roster that opted to leave college early in favor of a professional soccer career are still there. Everyone was up in arms when the team let Dan Metzger go through the draft only to ultimately end up on NYRB II after not making it through D.C. United's preseason. This year, the Red Bulls decided to take a different approach.
New York was never likely to keep all seven homegrown players on their roster and that's been clear from day one. Sporting Director Ali Curtis said time and time again that this year was an exception in terms of the homegrowns signed. He meant that in multiple ways. On the surface he was referring to number signed, seven is a lot, but he also gave a strong connotation to the nature of these signings. That for some of the seven the contract would act as an extended trial and small bonus to them if they were to ultimately to sign for NYRB II, in return for staying out of the draft. Next year the nature of the team's homegrown signings may change again, as they sign a smaller number overall, with someone from NYRB II joining for depth, while also bringing in a potential contributor from college like Arun Basuljevic or Adam Najem. It changes by the year and by the talent available.
If all seven entered preseason and showed they were better than every draft pick and trialist there and proved the best fit for the organization, then the team would have been happy to keep them. But that's not the case, and so these players will end up on NYRB II or another professional team. That's the nature of youth development and that's the nature of professional soccer. No radical change has occured in New York or the soccer world as a whole. Despite the whats been said over these roster moves, neither rapture nor rupture has occured and New York's path and commitment to homegrown players remains the same.