With the 16th overall pick of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, the New York Red Bulls selected Brian White. Listed as a midfielder by his college (Duke) and the PDL, White is expected to feature primarily as a forward for RBNY. He proved himself an adept goal-scorer in the Red Bulls system during a standout 2017 for the RBNY U-23s in PDL: 17 goals in 14 appearances saw White finish the short summer season as PDL’s top-ranked pro prospect, the league’s MVP and Golden Boot winner.
The RBNY U-23s were the PDL 2017 regular season champions, but suffered an early exit from the playoffs.
In his prior stint with RBNY’s PDL team, in 2015, White was part of a squad that went to the league’s playoff final, losing 4-3 to K-W United.
All of which is to say that White has a history of personal and team success playing within RBNY’s RalfBall system. That pedigree and solid college career (73 appearances and 63 starts in 74 possible games for Duke over four years; 23 goals and 11 assists at the college level) clearly recommends highly to the Red Bulls.
Though he was not among the most fancied prospects at the 2018 MLS SuperDraft, the majority of mock drafts this year saw him heading to RBNY as the team’s first pick. And they were proved right.
The Red Bulls made White sweat a little, calling a time out - generally a precursor to a trade - before proceeding with their first selection. But since he is not a Red Bull Academy product, and therefore not eligible for a Homegrown contract, it made a lot of sense for RBNY to snap White up quickly at the draft, before another club persuaded itself to take a flyer on the best player in PDL 2017.
As RBNY’s first pick in this year’s draft, White’s first challenge is simply to stick around longer than a season or two. He is the fourth RBNY first-round draft pick since Jesse Marsch took over as head coach. None of the others are still with the club. Leo Stolz (18th overall in 2015) spent a season with the reserve team and was then released without a first-team appearance. Zeiko Lewis (17th overall in 2017) followed the same path. Both those players were best-on-the-board selections, with RBNY clearly hoping that talent and potential would see them force their way into the team’s plans - but neither worked out.
In 2016, the Red Bulls opted to fill a position of need with their first-round draft pick, selecting Justin Bilyeu with the 18th overall pick. As a specialist left back, Bilyeu did see first-team minutes in his rookie season, and he was a regular contributor to the II team’s league-and-Cup double-winning 2016 squad. But ultimately, RBNY clearly felt Bilyeu was not going to be a future first-team starter. He was released mid-way through the 2017 season, having accrued 10 first-team appearances (seven starts), spread across MLS, US Open Cup, and CONCACAF Champions League.
In common with those that preceded him, White should be expected to play mostly - most likely, exclusively - for the II team in USL in his rookie season as pro. Indeed, with the first-team roster looking crowded and “big roster moves” on the horizon, it will be a surprise if he is even offered a first-team contract for 2018.
Nor is he necessarily guaranteed progression to the first team if he lights up USL for RBNY the way he illuminated PDL 2017. The II team has not historically struggled to find a regular goal-scorer; indeed, the II team cycles through productive strikers with near-reckless abandon.
Anatole Abang managed eight goals in 14 career appearances for the RBNY reserves. That record and his obvious potential won him minutes with the first team (and the Cameroon national team), but his relationship with the Red Bulls apparently broke down irreparably in 2016, and he has been seeing out his contract with the club via a succession of loans to European teams.
Brandon Allen was a homegrown, high-volume goal-scorer for the Red Bulls, who finished 2016 as USL’s Rookie of the Year and Cup final MVP. With 30 goals in 47 career appearances for the reserves, he had outgrown the II team by mid-2017, but had just one (seven-minute) first-team appearance to his name. Allen was loaned out to Minnesota United in July, managed one (nine-minute) appearance for the Loons in MLS, and was subsequently released by RBNY. He will play for Bethlehem Steel in USL in 2018.
The latest goals-galore II-team striker is Stefano Bonomo, who had backed-up both Abang and Allen in his first two seasons with the reserves. In their absence, after recovering from a lengthy injury lay-off, Bonomo scored 13 goals in 16 USL appearances in 2017 and earned himself a first-team contract for this season.
White doesn’t have to be a heavyweight scorer for the II team to be considered a success with RBNY, but it is his presumptive role after his extraordinary 2017 in PDL.
Defenders at the pro-level would be well advised not to sleep on his left foot.