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New York Red Bulls put full-back depth on trial

RBNY has revealed its first trialists of the 2018 pre-season, and perhaps revealed its depth concerns also

U18 USA v U18 Germany - International Friendly Photo by Sergio Camacho/Bongarts/Getty Images

The New York Red Bulls’ first day of pre-season provided fans with fresh opportunity for a favorite game: scouring the team’s photos for any new faces.

Cristian Casseres was spotted quickly. The Venezuela youth international is expected to be officially signed as soon as RBNY gets round to issuing an announcement.

Typically, this sort of photo-scouting exercise turns up two categories of player: expected and unknown. In this instance, however, there was one stand-out surprise picked out by the social-media spotters: former Red Bulls Academy full-back Kyle Duncan.

And the club duly issued an official statement, confirming that Duncan was indeed a preseason trialist.

A player of sufficient talent to make it into the USMNT U-18 and U-20 player pools, Duncan followed his cousin, Tim Weah, from the Red Bulls Academy to France in 2015. Weah has developed into one of the more promising US youth internationals in his time in the Paris Saint-Germain youth system. Duncan landed at Valenciennes, fell out of the player pool for his USMNT youth team cohort, and didn’t quite manage to crack the first team at his Ligue 2 club.

But he has two seasons in France under his belt, and he told the Valenciennes website that he could see himself improving in his time with the team:

I’ve come a long way since I’ve been here: I make better passes, I shoot better, I pay more attention to my situation on the field and the placement of my teammates.

In his own mind at least, the 20-year-old returns to RBNY better than the youth-international teenager (who turned down a II-team contract) that left the club’s Academy in 2015.

Duncan is conventionally regarded as a right-back. His fellow trialist, Ismaila Jome, is described by RBNY as a left-winger, but might be better regarded as a wing-back-in-waiting.

Gambia-born and Minnesota-raised, Jome was the Minnesota State High School Soccer Coaches Association’s “Mr. Soccer” in 2012. He turned pro with Minnesota United in NASL in 2016, and was part of the club’s squad for its inaugural season in MLS.

Collectively, the two trialists would appear to confirm one of RBNY’s priorities in preseason: full-back depth. Draft pick Niko De Vera is a left-back. The II team only has five players under contract currently, and three of them are full-back capable: Noah Powder, Andrew Lombard, and Ethan Kutler.

The current MLS roster is crowded, but maybe one full-back short - unless head coach Jesse Marsch is seriously considering making right-back the first-choice position for Tyler Adams (assumed to do his best work in central midfield). If there is an injury to one of the first-choice, first-team full-backs - or Kemar Lawrence lands the big move to Europe he is hoping for - then the team would start to look light on outside-back starters.

Whether it’s to bolster the depth in the squad for this year, or to develop specialist starters for 2019 or 2020, it seems clear from the presence of Duncan and Jome in the squad that Marsch is looking closely at full-back options this preseason.