The New York Red Bulls U-23 team is a significant part of the club's development pipeline. Four players from last year's squad have since signed pro deals with RBNY (or NYRB II): Arun Basuljevic, Evan Louro, Andrew Lombard, Florian Valot. When Lombard returns from injury, there's a good chance all four of those players will start a few games together for the II team in USL (and the other three are already regular starters for NYRB II). And they are merely the most recent players to follow what is now a well-established path to a contract with RBNY.
The U-23 team had a bit of a down year last season, failing to qualify for the PDL playoffs. In the seven seasons of its existence at the NPSL/PDL level, the team has only missed out on the playoffs twice - and the 2014 cohort won the NPSL National Championship. The following year, RBNY switched the team from NPSL to PDL: a different brand of the same summer-league structure. The 2015 group made a run to the PDL Championship game, losing to K-W United.
PDL teams play a short season, since they exist largely to give college players exposure and experience during their summer break. RBNY's U-23s start their 14-game regular season on May 20 and finish on July 15. Playoffs should be wrapped up in August.
Winning games and trophies is always pleasing, but the primary purpose of the U-23s for the Red Bulls is to keep the club's development pipeline connected to the college game. Players for the PDL squad are usually in the midst of a college soccer career, and they play as amateurs - retaining their NCAA eligibility. Those who are former Red Bulls Academy players also help preserve their eligibility for Homegrown player contracts with RBNY - as were handed to Basuljevic and Louro this season. The squad also allows RBNY to take a look at college players who developed outside the club's system, such as Florian Valot, who popped up on the U-23 roster last season and was quickly signed up to a pro deal with NYRB II.
So there's a strong and proven likelihood that a few players from this year's U-23 crop will sign pro deals with RBNY by the time the 2018 season gets underway.
The U-23 roster can be somewhat fluid. More than 30 players were named to it last season. A similar number would not be surprising this year. For now, however, 13 names have been added to the RBNY U-23s roster page on the PDL website, allowing a first glimpse of the players who will be on the squad this season.
2017 #RBNY U23s: Lochner, Stroud, JS Sanchez, Politz, Zajec, Deeds, Kapitula, Edwards, Knudson, White. NEW: Lundgaard, DeOliveira, Aguinaga— Brian.MLS (@CurseofCaricola) May 4, 2017
There will be more names to come, no doubt, and not every player on the initial list will necessarily play significant minutes - or even at all - for the U-23s this season. But they are the names we have for now, and it's a decent bet that most of them will be on the team that opens the 2017 PDL campaign for RBNY on May 20.
A quick look at the first group of players named to this year's RBNY U-23 team:
Jose Aguinaga; The Red Bulls struck gold with Florian Valot and continue to mine Rider University's men's soccer program for prospects. Aguinaga is a midfielder with an eye for goal, as he demonstrated for Seattle Sounders U-23s in last year's PDL. In three college seasons, he's tallied 15 goals and 23 assists in 57 games.
Federico De Oliveira: A high-scoring forward on the New Jersey high-school circuit, De Oliveira has settled into a midfield role at Adelphi University, where has continued to attract honors and attention for his soccer. Played his PDL with Jersey Express the last two seasons, and was on the team that bumped NYRB II out of the 2015 US Open Cup.
Mason Deeds: Highly-rated defender who trained with RB Salzburg and got games with NYRB II while still in the RBNY Academy. If he had pro offers, however, he turned them down - he is currently a Georgetown player, expected to graduate in 2020.
Zach Knudson: Moved from NC State to Georgetown last summer. An attacking player who was a regular with NYRB U-23s the last two seasons.
Michael Kapitula: The midfielder has been playing his college soccer with fellow RBNY Academy products Evan Louro and Marcello Borges at Michigan.
Benjamin Lundgaard: 'Keeper at Virginia Tech. Played PDL with Fresno Fuego last season. Ranked second among Juniors on Everybody Soccer's end-of-year NCAA Goalkeeper rankings.
Kevin Politz: RBNY Academy product who somehow slipped Georgetown's net. The defender plays his college soccer at Wake Forest.
Jared Stroud: A regular with the U-23s - this will be his third season in PDL with RBNY - the midfielder plays his college soccer at Colgate (as did 2017 RBNY Draft pick Ethan Kutler).
Kyle Zajec: A midfielder who has moved from - stop me if you've heard this before - the RBNY Academy to Georgetown via a few minutes with NYRB II.
Georgetown RBNY U-23 squad is expected to play most of its home games at the Red Bulls Training Facility, starting with Reading United on May 20.