After several weeks of negotiations involving homegrown rights with Minnesota United, New York Red Bulls have finally signed Red Bulls II midfielder Caden Clark to an MLS contract. The club stated Clark will be available for first team selection immediately after completing covid-19 quarantine protocols.
The negotiations between New York and Minnesota for Clark, who had 3 goals and 5 assists in 11 starts for the Red Bull development team in the USL Championship after signing from the FC Barcelona academy program in Arizona, made for a fascinating saga that highlighted some of the league’s bizarre legal quirks. A native of Medina, Minnesota who played for the Minnesota Thunder Academy until he was 13, Minnesota United had owned his rights for the purposes of a homegrown Major League Soccer contract bypassing the draft process. Their possession of these rights, in spite of him never having made an appearance for the club (Clark in fact has not played soccer in the state since Minnesota entered the league) meant that, while allowed to freely sign contracts in USL or any other league, he couldn’t play for another team in MLS without compensating Minnesota.
Until recently, the chances seemed slim on Clark ever signing for the Red Bulls first team, with the Loons demanding a heavy ransom for such a highly-rated prospect and European teams beginning to circle around the former Barcelona trainee. But as Clark’s performances in USL became more consistent, newly-hired Red Bulls sporting chief Kevin Thelwell made the securing the midfielder’s rights a top priority. With the help of sporting director Denis Hamlett’s knowledge of MLS regulations, Thelwell and the Minnesota front office eventually struck a deal, with New York sending $75,000 in General Allocation Money in exchange for Clark’s rights. Given the open-mindedness interim head coach Bradley Carnell has shown towards team selection, congested end-of-season fixtures, and lack of midfield depth from injuries, it can be expected that Clark will immediately fight to get minutes with the first team.
But in the long term Clark becomes New York’s first foray into a particular type of Red Bull signing seen most often at the team’s sister club in Salzburg - a teenage prospect frustrated by lack of opportunities in existing setups looking to benefit from Red Bull’s emphasis on youth promotion. The Red Bull blueprint acknowledges that in-house academy prospects alone are not enough to keep a consistent pipeline of talent emerging at your club - canny scouting of high-upside, easily-available youth talent from elsewhere (such as recent designated player Dru Yearwood) is often even more fruitful for both on-field production and future transfer profits. As New York becomes as integrated with Red Bull’s European network as its ever been, look for more signings like Caden Clark going forward.