It was exciting to walk in to the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia for the 2018 MLS SuperDraft. The event is staged in the middle of the United Soccer Coaches Convention, which has its own momentum, and the draft itself posed the usual questions: who would be selected by whom? Which teams would use the day to wheel and deal themselves up the order or seek to cash in their picks?
For the New York Red Bulls, it was a pretty straightforward day in the end: three picks in the first two rounds, used on three players. Straightforward was probably all RBNY wanted out of this year’s draft. Last year, the team’s Draft Day was overshadowed by questions about Ali Curtis (Where is he?), Jesse Marsch (Where have you been?), and - by the time the third and fourth rounds rolled around a few days later - Dax McCarty (What were you thinking?). So to get in and out of the 2018 draft with three players and no uncomfortable questions about runaway sporting directors must have been satisfying.
Now the coaching staff can look forward to pre-season camps in Florida and Arizona, and the real work of deciding how the first team will play this year, and how the reserves will be put together for another season in USL.
The three players selected by RBNY in the first two rounds this year are likely destined for USL this season. But Brian White - the Red Bulls’ top pick, 16th overall in the draft - has a big upside.
He is not a homegrown player, but did spend two seasons with the PDL side. And in 2017, he had a hell of a season scoring 17 goals and three assists in fourteen matches. He had four multi-goal games for the U23’s; most memorably, a four-goal game against Jersey Express at the training facility on June 14th. He knows the RBNY system and he knows how to score goals. Not hard to understand why the Red Bulls wanted first crack at seeing how he handles the professional game.
The team’s second pick this year was Niko De Vera, selected 8th in the second round and 31st overall.
De Vera is a three-year letter winner at Akron and a Portland Timbers Academy product. The full-back had his best college season during his senior campaign, earning All-MAC honors as a second-team honoree. The Camas, Washington, native started all 23 matches during his senior campaign and tallied four assists as a defender.
“It’s crazy - my mind is blown being picked by the Red Bulls, but I had a good interview with them,” said De Vera, who it seems the team sought out at the Combine. “I really like their style of play and they aren’t afraid to give their young players a chance and stick with them.”
Akron has produced a lot of good players in recent years, and one influential coach: Caleb Porter, the man in charge of the Portland Timbers for much of De Vera’s time in their development system.
The team’s third and final selection - 16th in the second round, 39th overall -is Tom Barlow, a forward from Wisconsin. Sadly, he wasn’t at the draft to give his thoughts to media on being selected.
Barlow was an immediate impact at Wisconsin when he arrived as a freshman in 2014. Over four seasons, the 6-foot-2 forward started all but two games as a Badger (76 of 78). Barlow collected Big Ten All-Freshman honors in 2014 and recorded 23 goals on 151 shots, 15 assists, 61 points, 10 game-winnings goals and 6413 minutes in Cardinal and White. He led the Big Ten in scoring with 10 goals during his senior campaign.
All told, Jesse Marsch was pleased with the Red Bulls’ Draft Day:
“We targeted two of the three so we are happy to pick that up and the third pick you always wondered where that was going to sit,” said Marsch. “We are feeling good and we did some research on which players make it after the first five picks: it’s outside backs and forwards - it’s needs that we have, but also that gives us hope that these guys will be the diamonds in the rough that can make an impact.”
Full backs and forwards: we’ll see if that drafting philosophy sticks with RBNY next year. Until then, the focus will be on proving that approach right by developing the three 2018 picks into productive professional players.