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New York’s draft day moves a bet on their strengths

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The Red Bulls going against the grain at the Superdraft underlines their superior development pathway

MLS: SuperDraft Nuccio DiNuzzo-USA TODAY Sports

As of mid-January, the highlights of the New York Red Bulls’ off-season are limited to drafts. The team lost Hassan Ndam to FC Cincinnati in the Expansion draft, receiving $50,000 of General Allocation Money (GAM) in return. They acquired Amro Tarek for a fourth-round SuperDraft pick and selected Marcus Epps in the Waiver Draft.

It was the MLS SuperDraft where RBNY made its most significant moves of the off-season to date. For the cost of $100,000 GAM and the MLS rights to Amando Moreno, New York acquired three additional picks in the first two rounds of the draft and selected the quartet of Roy Boateng, Janos Loebe, Sean Nealis, and Rece Buckmaster.

Over the last decade, the level of skill emerging from American college soccer has remained roughly the same. Meanwhile, the league saw an influx of academy and foreign talent, thus reducing the importance of what was once a pivotal league event. Teams have responded in kind, putting less emphasis on their draft picks and positions. Philadelphia made the most dramatic statement on the declining significance of the draft by trading all of their picks away this year. The draft is now a quirky little mechanism to acquire a potential depth piece or two.

But the New York Red Bulls bucked the trend this year and leaned into the draft. In the picks of Boateng, Loebe, Nealis, and Buckmaster, the Red Bulls bet on themselves and their strengths. Whether any of these young men make an impact in New York remains to be seen. My argument is that it does not matter if they do. Regardless of how these four players’ careers turn out, selecting them at the draft this year represented a well-calculated risk for RBNY, one more than worth the price the team paid for the opportunity.

Within MLS, $100,000 of GAM would net New York a depth piece. Outside the league, that money is worth even less. Meanwhile, Amando Moreno, who has performed well for NYRB II in USL since returning to the club, was close to sixth on the club’s depth chart at forward (currently assumed to be BWP, Derrick Etienne, Anatole Abang, Brian White, and Ben Mines; Moreno stood out as the only forward option not contracted to the first team). In effect, RBNY traded away two depth pieces for four, and gave II-team head coach John Wolyneic and his staff the best opportunity to succeed at their proven strength: developing first-team contributors.

Since coming into existence in 2015, New York Red Bulls II has assisted with developing first team stars like Aaron Long and Tyler Adams, alongside strong depth players like Florian Valot and Vincent Bezecourt. All the while being an invaluable resource to bridging the gap from academy to the first team for the likes of Derrick Etienne, Alex Muyl, or Sean Davis. Which is to say that Woly and his staff are good at what they do: some of the best even. They have a proven record at training up young men into solid MLS-level players.

Finding the next Aaron Long is going to be through luck, but if luck is preparation plus opportunity, then New York provides for both. In making a bet on talent in the SuperDraft, the New York Red Bulls are backing their own strengths, doubling down on their infrastructure, and letting life take its course. There is untapped, under-developed soccer talent throughout the United States and RBNY wants to be the team to find and develop it.