Mock drafts seem to exist mostly as an excuse to mock those doing the mock drafting, and nothing wrong with that. So Once A Metro threw its $0.02 at SB Nation’s 2018 MLS mock draft - and you, dear reader, get to point out the error of our ways.
The New York Red Bulls enter this year’s draft with five picks: the 16th pick of the first round; the 8th and 16th picks (31st and 39th overall) of the second round; the 14th and 16th picks of the fourth round (83rd and 85th overall). If they don’t trade any of those selections away, 2018 will see Jesse Marsch set a new personal best for single-season draft picks as RBNY head coach. Back in 2015, Marsch drafted four players; he had two picks in 2016, and three in 2017.
What we have learned from those three draft days is that the Red Bulls under Marsch are not averse to selecting the best player available, regardless of position - Leo Stolz (2015) and Zeiko Lewis (2017) being the cases in point - and the head coach isn’t afraid to mine his own experience and contacts for a sleeper pick: the only current Marsch-era draft pick on the RBNY first team roster is Stefano Bonomo - the 39th overall pick of the 2015 draft, and a player Marsch remembered from USMNT U-18 player pool in 2011; in 2017, RBNY also had the 39th overall pick and used it to pick up Ethan Kutler, who played his college soccer at Colgate - where he was coached by Erik Ronning, an old friend of the Red Bulls head coach.
We have also learned that draft picks will typically spend most of their first year playing for the Red Bulls II team in USL. And though several have shown promise and been successful with the second team, no RBNY draft pick of the Marsch era has broken through to become a bona fide first-team starter. Yet.
Armed with this understanding of RBNY’s draft-day preferences under Marsch, OaM entered SBN’s 2018 mock draft with two thoughts: if a highly-rated player falls low in the first round, the Red Bulls will likely snap him up, whether he fills a position of need or not; and the head coach might have a personal favorite or two in mind for late-round surprise selections.
OaM also thought it couldn’t easily identify anyone to fit either of those categories, so opted instead for a different strategy: pick players already known to RBNY and experienced in the team’s preferred style of play.
Red Bull’s global RalfBall strategy was never really a secret - even when Jesse Marsch and Luis Robles were claiming it wasn’t really a thing at RBNY - and it looks set to continue to be at the core of RBNY’s thinking, on and off the field, for the foreseeable future. The Red Bulls’ U-23 team had a successful 2017, losing only two games in PDL (sadly, one was in the playoffs). And the draft pool is littered with players who contributed to that success. These are players who understand RBNY’s tactical approach and have been part of a group that executed those tactics well.
So OaM went into the mock draft looking for RBNY 2017 U-23 team veterans.
First Round: Pick #16 - Brian White (Duke), F
OaM’s top draft targets were Chris Lema, Ben Lundgaard, and White. All three were still available when the 16th pick rolled around. Goalkeeper seemed perhaps the least urgent of RBNY’s needs, assuming Homegrown prospect Evan Louro is set for another season with the II team - so Lundgaard was passed over. Lema is a highly-rated midfielder, but also a Red Bull Academy product not signed to a Homegrown contract, suggesting perhaps he and RBNY have drifted apart.
White was the 2017 PDL MVP and Golden Boot winner.
Brian White has been voted 2017 PDL MVP after scoring a league-high 17 goals in 14 games for the @RedBullsAcademy. #Path2Pro pic.twitter.com/KvGzg82Wdf— USL PDL (@USLPDL) August 4, 2017
Goals win games. Brian White scores goals for RBNY. Brian White is OaM’s first pick on RBNY’s behalf for the 2018 SB Nation MLS mock draft.
Second Round: Pick #31 - Markus Fjortoft (Duke), D
Slimmer pickings this time around. The Blue Testament mock-drafted Chris Lema for Sporting Kansas City with the 18th pick of the first round, and Dynamo Theory took Lundgaard for Houston with the 20th selection.
With the 31st overall pick, OaM mock-drafted Fjortoft: a center-back prospect who knows the RBNY U-23s, has already partnered in defense with Homegrown signing Kevin Politz, and played with White at college and in PDL.
And he would add to the list of current Red Bulls with famous fathers.
Per an interview ge gave to Planet Football, Fjortoft nearly hobbled his Red Bull career before it began by nearly hobbling Bradley Wright-Phillips, but has hopefully been forgiven for that transgression.
Second Round: Pick #39 - Afonso Pinheiro (Albany), F
There are so many draft-eligible former RBNY Academy and U-23 team players that it took two Tweets for one of the club’s premier historians to wish them all well.
Good luck to all former #RBNY academy players eligible for selection in the #MLSSuperDraft tomorrow! Hoped to see you in Red and White but best of luck with your careers!@MasonToye98 @eriksa10 @chrislema1996 @billystevens35 @Steven_Echy @MrEthanDecker @RedBullsAcademy— Brian.MLS (@CurseofCaricola) January 18, 2018
Good luck to all the former Red Bull U23 @USLPDL players eligible in tomorrow's #MLSSuperDraft ! @MarkusFjortoft @Ben_Lundgaard @_BrianWhite24 @ZachMK10 @JollyJ_Tweets, Aguinaga, Arcila, Laokandi, Loebe, Phillipe and Stripling #Path2Pro— Brian.MLS (@CurseofCaricola) January 18, 2018
But OaM came into this mock draft a little under-prepared, overlooked the availability of about a dozen suitable prospects, panicked, and the result is selecting Afonso Pinheiro. He might have a great many talents that recommend him to RBNY, but this website will not pretend it was aware of any such qualities when it made this selection.
Mercifully, SBN only simulated the first two rounds of the draft, so OaM was spared further exposure of its paper-thin knowledge of this year’s player pool.
To see just how wrong OaM was in predicting RBNY’s 2018 draft day, tune in to the MLS SuperDraft at 11 am, Eastern, on January 19.