With their third pick of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft - the 16th of the second round, 39th overall - the New York Red Bulls selected Tom Barlow.
The forward was not at the Combine, nor did he attend Draft Day. He gave his thank-you speech from his home in St. Louis.
The selection completed a sort of perfect SuperDraft hat-trick for RBNY. The team picked one player it knew very well: Brian White, the standout scorer of last summer’s Red Bull U-23 team. The next pick, Niko De Vera, was one the coaching staff had been able to watch up close at the Combine. Finally, Barlow represented a classic sleeper pick: a player selected without any encouragement at all from the Draft Day and Combine hoopla.
In post-draft comments, sporting director Denis Hamlett attributed Barlow’s selection to the team’s scouting over the course of the preceding season.
“You know, it goes back to our scouting. It’s kind of hard with our season, but we do watch a lot of games...we do have connections throughout the country, and we reached out to those people and it was glowing remarks coming back - we take that strongly from the people that we trust,” said Hamlett.
He also noted “he’s a Wisconsin guy, so Jesse’s happy”.
The Red Bulls head coach is indeed a Wisconsin guy, and Draft Days under Jesse Marsch often feature a selection based on some personal connection to the coach. In 2015, RBNY drafted Stefano Bonomo - a player Marsch remembered as part of the U-18 USMNT pool from his days as part of Bob Bradley’s national team coaching set-up. In 2017, another 39th pick fell RBNY’s way and was spent on Ethan Kutler, who had been playing his college soccer at Colgate, under the coaching of Erik Ronning - an old friend of Marsch.
We know about these connections because Marsch mentioned them himself, suggesting he enjoys it when the wide world of soccer gets small and circumstances put him back in touch with his past. This year was no different: Marsch was quick to volunteer the (tenuous) connection between himself and his latest RBNY draft pick.
“Tom Barlow - we thought would be invited to the Combine. We watched Wisconsin this year - it’s my home state, my wife is an actual alum of the University of Wisconsin. That’s not why we picked him, but it didn’t hurt,” he said after the draft.
Why RBNY picked Barlow is presumably related to the fact he was a four-year starter at Wisconsin (76 starts in 78 appearances) and was the Big Ten’s leading scorer in 2017 (10 goals in 22 games). He is also a product of the St. Louis Scott Gallagher academy program, the football factory whose most recently celebrated prospect is US youth national team star Josh Sargent.
In December, Ives Galarcep identified Barlow as a potential sleeper pick, noting that scouts watching Wisconsin’s highly-rated attacking prospect Christopher Mueller - picked 6th overall by Orlando City - were also generating positive reviews of a forward with “good size and soft feet”. Clearly, the Red Bulls were among those watching.
Assuming he wins a contract in preseason, Barlow will be expected to play for RBNY II in USL. He will be one of the less-fancied prospects on the team, at least initially. But of the latest round of draft picks, Barlow might be the best bet to stick around for a while: the Red Bulls’ last two #39 picks in the draft - Bonomo and Kutler - are still with the club, while players RBNY drafted ahead of them have all moved on.