With the 22nd pick of the 2019 SB Nation MLS Mock Draft, Once A Metro selects Peter-Lee Vassell on behalf of the New York Red Bulls.
Vassell is in this year’s draft as what appears to be the sole representative of the MLS Caribbean Combine. The 19-year-old is currently regarded as an attack-minded midfielder; a reputation bolstered by the fact he has scored five goals in his first eight appearances for the Jamaica men’s national team.
OaM is happy to admit it has not the faintest idea what RBNY might be looking for out of this draft. In 2018, there was an obvious first-round pick for the Red Bulls: Brian White had scored heavily for the RBNY U-23s in PDL the previous summer and had surely earned a shot at proving himself in the club’s pro ranks. And he was, as expected, RBNY’s first pick of the 2018 SuperDraft.
In 2019, there is no such clear favorite. The first-team roster has a somewhat urgent need for depth at center-back, and several mock-drafters have proposed selections for RBNY that might address that concern. UConn’s Jacob Hauser-Ramsey has been a popular suggestion for the Red Bulls first-round pick this year, and he was available when OaM’s turn came to make a selection.
But the hunch driving this pick is that RBNY already has under-the-radar, not-at-the-combine selections in mind for its more obvious depth requirements. And some of those players - already extensively scouted; some already tested in the club’s U-23 set-up or at its own College Combine - may not need to be drafted at all, or can reasonably be expected to be available in later rounds of the draft.
As such, OaM thinks the Red Bulls will treat their first-round pick as a luxury, grabbing the player that strikes them as the biggest talent left on the board when their turn comes, regardless of need.
An MLS/USL team should check out this Peter-Lee Vassell guy, 19 year old midfielder that has broken into the Jamaican national team and has 5 goals in 8 games this year. #ReggaeBoyz pic.twitter.com/MpzHVuqhEW— Ben Mines Stan (@BenMinesStan) November 20, 2018
Since 2015, when RBNY re-made itself in the image of its European sibling RB clubs, the team has seemed to alternate its first pick in the draft between a what-the-hell, best-player-on-the-board selection and a more studied choice based on the needs of the roster or clear evidence of an affinity for the Red Bulls’ preferred style of play.
It should be noted that the pragmatic approach has been by far the more successful. In 2016, RBNY’s first-round pick was spent on Justin Bilyeu, a left-back who didn’t develop into a regular starter for the club but did get (limited) first-team minutes in both his seasons as a Red Bull. Similarly, Brian White got his first MLS starts and his first MLS goal for RBNY in his rookie season. Both players were drafted with an understanding of the role they’d be asked to fill and first-team opportunities likely to be available to them if they showed they were up to the task in training.
In 2015 and 2017, the Red Bulls opted for best-on-the-board selections with their first SuperDraft picks. Both Leo Stolz and Zeiko Lewis were surprise choices, mostly because it was a surprise that either player was even available to a team picking as low in the first round as RBNY (and in Stolz’s case, it had been widely assumed he wasn’t going to sign a contract to play in MLS anyway). Both players left the Red Bulls after one season without any first-team appearances.
So if RBNY does opt for a player like Vassell, the pick should perhaps be regarded as both a compliment and a curse. A compliment because it will mean the team has been persuaded to let its hair down and draft a player who is simply good at football rather than particularly likely to be good at RalfBall. A curse because that sort of first-round pick hasn’t worked out too well at RBNY in the past.