Colorado Rapids have announced the signing of defender Mike da Fonte from USL's Sacramento Republic. The 25-year-old was a regular starter last season for a team that won the USL Western Conference in the regular season and lost out to Orange County Blues on penalties in the playoffs. Da Fonte was a significant part of a defense that only allowed 27 goals in 30 league games in 2016, and kept a clean sheet in its only post-season match.
His move up to MLS is, of course, to be attributed to his own work on the field, but da Fonte's signing is also positive news for New York Red Bulls II. The Ossining-born defender turned pro in Portugal, but landed back in US soccer as part of NYRB II's inaugural squad in 2015. A single season with the Red Bulls' II team was enough to win Sacramento's attention, and from there he has worked his way to a shot at playing in MLS.
For the II team this is a positive because it bolsters the impression that the squad isn't just developing future RBNY players. Success stories like Derrick Etienne and Aaron Long have used NYRB II to crack the Red Bulls' first-team lineup, but in each of the reserves' two seasons there is a longer list of players who don't make it - and are simply released - than who do.
It seems clear from the pattern established by NYRB II since 2015 that the team is not about building depth and chemistry over the span of several years. That approach can be followed by the independent clubs in USL - like Sacramento or FC Cincinnati - who are trying to develop their own identities, histories, and fan bases. But NYRB II is a development squad, and it exists to serve the needs of RBNY in MLS, first and foremost. Every season, a team is put together by combining a few pros signed to USL contracts, a few players on MLS contracts who won't see much time with the first team, and a few Academy prospects who play in USL as amateurs.
And after each of its two seasons, NYRB II has released a slew of players. It doesn't mean those players are not good, and some are re-signed by the club shortly after their release. But most don't get re-signed. Not because they aren't good soccer players, but because the Red Bulls don't see them breaking through to the first team - and if a II-teamer doesn't have some sort of shot at being a first team player for RBNY, there isn't much point in keeping them on the II team. So the players who have run their course with the Red Bulls are released to explore other options.
It bodes well for NYRB II's recruitment efforts when former players are able to advance their careers elsewhere: it demonstrates that the relatively narrow focus on developing players for RBNY doesn't stunt the growth and opportunity for those who don't move on to the Red Bulls' MLS team. Every case like da Fonte - a one-year-and-done II-teamer now moved on to a bigger opportunity - strengthens NYRB II's pitch to potential new recruits: whether you wind up playing for RBNY or not, you'll leave this team with options to continue your career.
NYRB II can't control or claim responsibility for what happens to its alumni once they leave the team. But it may in some small way benefit when former players progress from a short stint with the team to bigger and better things.
Best of luck to Mike da Fonte in Colorado. And if NYRB II signs even one player who has been persuaded the Red Bulls can boost his career because of da Fonte's trajectory since leaving the II team: thank you, Mike.