The New York Red Bulls seem to have a knack for discovering their own academy talent via their reserve team almost by happenstance. First, Derrick Etienne burst onto the scene last year, scoring three goals and assisting on three more on his way to being the most exciting player on New York Red Bulls II before having to leave for college. After just one season at UVA, the Red Bulls decided to bring Etienne on board full time, signing him to a professional deal. A year prior, very few had any idea who Etienne was and no one was talking about him being one of the team's next homegrown signings.
Now, RBNY appears to have unearthed another hitherto unheralded academy talent: Noah Powder.
For years, New York Red Bulls fans with an ear close to the ground heard rumblings about this great defender coming through the youth ranks. He was getting looks from Europe, from the national team, and even from the first team for a Homegrown contract. That defender's name is Mason Deeds.
Yet Deeds isn't the one we're talking about here, Powder is. Mason Deeds is a good defender who has shown well in his appearances for NYRB II, despite his haircut, and looks to have a solid college career at Georgetown before him. If he performs well and continues to develop he may well earn a homegrown contract in the future. However, as stated before, Deeds isn't who we're talking about.
Much like Etienne before him, Noah Powder was an above-average academy player who was given a shot in pre-season with the first team and then with New York Red Bulls II on an academy contract. Here, he grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Powder's performances at left back have earned him plaudits from day one this year, consistently showing as one of the better players on the field. More recently, he's been handed starts in USL in midfield, where he has perhaps been less effective - but he's 17 years-old. Seventeen! Tyler Adams, Mr. "Oh my God, this kid is really damn young", is less than four months younger than Powder. If you cut Frank Lampard in half, you have two injured soccer players still older than Noah Powder.
Powder is a winger by nature but appears to have converted well to being a left back at the professional level. He is only a teenager but seems comfortable playing with men. He has a wicked left foot, pace to burn, above average technical skills, and is fearless in defending. He has maintained his attacking tendencies from his time as a winger but is always willing to defend. Maybe he is a little rash in the tackle, but that's being pedantic. Most importantly though, he has a lot of time to grow into his technical and physical abilities. Brandon Allen is one of the more prominent players to emerge from RBNY's development system recently - just making his first team debut against Toronto FC on May 28 - and the forward is 22.
At the time of writing, Powder is fifth on NYRB II in terms of minutes played and hasn't looked out of place for any of them despite his age. Imagine the player he could be at the 22 if he can hold his own in the USL at 17.
So the question is, when is the team planning on signing Noah Powder? In fact, why haven't they signed him already? Powder isn't committed to playing soccer in college, so that's not holding him back. He's set to graduate from high school in the next month and he is clearly capable of playing professional soccer already. So what gives?
Yes, he may not be as flashy a player as Etienne was last year, but that's almost more impressive. It is a whole lot harder for a defender to break through at young age than an attacking player. They have much less room for error and most of the good often goes unnoticed.
It's not like Powder hasn't impressed the coaching staff; Jess Marsch is clearly a fan. Back in November Marsch cited Powder out of the blue as one of the club's top prospects. It's not like Powder hasn't shown well on the international stage. He has captained Trinidad and Tobago's U17 squad, was recently picked for their U20 team, and has scored a great goal or two for his country. So... what gives?
He doesn't need to sign a first team contract. He doesn't need to be rushed. Sign Powder to NYRB II and let him develop for a few years then bring him up to MLS when he's ready. That is one of the major benefits of running a USL team after all, keeping the talent you develop in-house.
Maybe Powder wants to graduate from high school before turning professional. Maybe the Red Bulls want him to be fully committed to soccer before they sign him. Maybe. Yet, with all the fantastic academy players New York has had walk away for nothing, the New York Red Bulls would be foolish to let a player of Powder's caliber slip through their fingers, especially when he is so close at hand.