Orlando is currently crowded with MLS coaches and execs for the annual Player Combine, which also serves as an opportunity for teams to size each other up with regard to Draft Day deals and any other business they might wish to conduct as they seek to get rosters ready for the new season.
And they may even watch a little Combine soccer: the showcase event for the top prospects entering this year’s MLS SuperDraft.
The New York Red Bulls have four draft picks this year - until or unless they make a trade or two - and there is every chance they’ll use one or more on players at the Combine rather than a Rider University alum who didn’t get an invite (for more on such options - which is arguably the more productive route for RBNY in recent years - tune in to Eric Friedlander’s work over at Red Bulls News Network).
Who will RBNY draft this year? It’s a lot harder to say than last year, when Brian White was the standout candidate for the Red Bulls to select (and was indeed the team’s first pick of the 2018 SuperDraft). So let’s hope to be surprised this year, since Draft Day surprises are fun.
The Combine invitees have already been divided into four teams: Copa, Nemeziz, Predator, and X. Copa and Nemeziz will play the opening game of matchday 1 on Saturday, January 5; Predator and X will take the second scrimmage. There will be a second round of matches on Wednesday, January 9. All games will be streamed on MLS’ YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.
Once A Metro isn’t able to tell you RBNY’s plans for the 2019 SuperDraft, though it will certainly have a guess when the time is right (SB Nation Mock Draft time is right around the corner!). But here are the players OaM would recommend keeping an eye on at the Combine: a mix of the RBNY-connected, those appearing as Red Bulls’ selections on the more prominent mock drafts in the MLS blogosphere, and one or two that just seem like interesting prospects given the Red Bulls past preferences and current needs.
Team Copa (plays Nemeziz @ 12:30 pm, Eastern; Saturday, January 5)
Dayne St Clair: Highly-rated goalkeeper who summered with New York Red Bulls U-23s in last season’s PDL. St. Clair was the top-ranked Junior in Everbody Soccer’s 2018 NCAA Men’s Goalkeeper Rankings, and he is the de facto top-rated ‘keeper in this year’s SuperDraft, since he’s the only player at his position to have been handed a Generation Adidas contract (essentially meaning he has been pre-signed by MLS ahead of the Draft, and his salary will not count against the salary budget of the team that signs him). He also won the NCAA national championship this year with Maryland - incidentally the same college program that current US Soccer Male Player of the Year Zack Steffen kept goal for until the lure of the pro game got too strong to resist.
Consider St Clair highly unlikely to even be available by the time RBNY gets to make a selection in the 2019 SuperDraft.
Dylan Greenberg: No particular RBNY connection, but he is from Dix Hills, NY, and the Red Bulls do like a local player. UConn’s starting left back for essentially his entire college career, Greenberg also got looks from US Youth National Teams as he progressed through the ranks of age-group soccer. The Red Bulls also need to fill out their II-team squad; full back is one of the more demanding positions in the club’s tactical system and an area where both the USL and MLS rosters could use some help.
Jacob Hauser-Ramsey: Both mlssoccer.com’s Matt Doyle and Top Drawer Soccer’s Travis Clark recommend Hauser-Ramsey to RBNY in their latest mock drafts. Their reasoning is identical - the Red Bulls need center-back depth and the UConn product might be considered the best CB on the board at the tail end of the first-round of the draft.
Marcello Borges: It looks like Borges will be this year’s one-that-got-away for RBNY. The Red Bulls can’t reasonably be expected to sign up every prospect that emerges from their academy, and Borges appears to be just the latest example of a highly-rated Red Bull homegrown player who is going to take his shot at starting a pro career at another club. The full-back played his college soccer at Michigan, was a regular for the US U-20 MNT, and has put in time with RBNY U-23s and the II team during his years as an amateur player. It will be interesting to see how he fares in the draft, where it can be assumed the Red Bulls will leave him be since both parties would presumably have been better advised to agree to a Homegrown player deal if they were planning to be working together next season.
Peter-Lee Vassell: The MLS Caribbean Combine has had a peculiar history to date, changing formats and not really contributing any players who have made a significant impact on the MLS SuperDraft.
But some very good players have passed through the Caribbean Combine, including RBNY’s Kemar Lawrence, who participated in the 2014 edition - though it was more than a full year later before he landed a contract with a team in MLS. The Red Bulls signed him after a short trial in March 2015 (for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, MLS likes to suggest Lawrence was “discovered” via the Caribbean Combine, which is an odd claim to make for a player who had one unsuccessful trial with DC United in the 15 months between the Combine and being signed to a team in MLS).
Anyway, Vassell appears to be the only candidate from this year’s Caribbean Combine to have been offered a shot at entering MLS via this year’s SuperDraft. The 19-year-old midfielder got off to an eye-catching start to his national-team career in 2018: he scored five goals in eight appearances for Jamaica last year.
Team Nemeziz (plays Copa @ 12:30 pm, Eastern; Saturday, January 5)
Leonard Wilson: Not a local player - he’s from Scotland - but he did attend a local university. St. John’s is the alma mater of RBNY’s Connor Lade and Tim Parker; perhaps it’s time for the Red Bulls to bolster the Red Storm contingent at the club. The II team will need a back-up ‘keeper for the season ahead, and RBNY will be looking for someone to challenge Evan Louro’s position as the starter for the reserves in USL.
Rashid Nuhu: With respect to Leonard Wilson, if RBNY is looking for a ‘keeper who went to a local school to boost competition for playing time on the II team, it will more likely be hoping Fordham’s Nuhu falls far enough for the Red Bulls to catch him. Summered with the RBNY U-23s in PDL in 2018.
Sean McSherry: RBNY needs depth options at right-back and McSherry is a New Jersey native coming into the draft from a New Jersey school - Princeton, alma mater of former Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch.
Team Predator (plays X @ 2:45 pm, Eastern; Saturday, January 5)
Kamal Miller: Does Syracuse really count as part of the local area RBNY likes to shop in for talent? Perhaps not. Still, Miller is another center-back option the team might consider.
Siad Haji: One this year’s top prospects - coming out of VCU with a Generation Adidas contract and currently tipped to be the number one pick by both Matt Doyle and Travis Clark (Ives Galarcep has the attacking midfielder falling to sixth in the first round). Not expected to be anywhere close to an option for RBNY (who have the 22nd pick in the first round), but one to watch just for a sense of what the top talent in this year’s college crop might look like.
Tajon Buchanan: A Generation Adidas contract has lured the forward out of Syracuse a full two years ahead of schedule. He is Ives Galarcep’s current tip to be the number one pick on Draft Day. Don’t expect him to be an option for RBNY, but he’s another prospect whose talent and ability is thought to represent this best this year’s college cohort has to offer.
Team X (plays Predator @ 2:45 pm, Eastern; Saturday, January 5)
Anderson Asiedu: The midfielder moved to UCLA in 2017, but he’d played with RBNY U-23s in PDL during the first half of his college career at Monmouth.
Brendan McDonough: Center-back from a college program RBNY knows very well - Georgetown.
Frankie Amaya: The mock-drafters at mlssoccer.com, Top Drawer Soccer, and SBI agree on two things - RBNY needs center-back depth and Frankie Amaya will be the number two overall pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft. The midfielder has a Generation Adidas contract and recently helped the USA U-20 MNT to a CONCACAF Championship title. Another player to watch out for simply to see if he shows the talent that has him so highly rated at the Combine.
Hugo Delhommelle: Fine, Syracuse really doesn’t count as part of RBNY’s backyard, but Delhommelle is a midfielder who has followed the France-to-NCAA path that delivered Florian Valot and Vincent Bezecourt to the Red Bulls.