The 2021 Major League Soccer SuperDraft took place with all the pomp and circumstance of a Christmas mass, with most appearing out of a sense of duty and a few deciding they have better things to do. The New York Red Bulls took part in the increasingly-downsized ritual more than most clubs, making three selections. These young men head into the professional world, ready to try their luck at living out their dreams. Some will succeed, others will fail, but what’s important is that by denying the rights of these young men to choose the situation that best suits their sporting needs, the league is doing a great disservice to both player and club, hamstringing and hampering development.
But yes, the picks...
Round 1 – Pick 13: Luther Archimède – Forward – Syracuse
With the lucky 13th pick, the Red Bulls selected a player with professional and international experience. Archimède isn’t the typical college draft pick, having already appeared with the Guadeloupe national team. He made his debut for Les Gwada Boys in 2019, appearing in a 1-0 loss to Martinique in CONCACAF Nations League qualifying.
The striker additionally stands out among MLS draft picks with his experience at the professional level in Europe as a reserve. Archimède spent his career with the well-thought-of FC Sochaux academy, and was a teammate of current Red Bull Jason Pendant. Prior to attending Syracuse he began to break through, making the bench twice in Ligue 2 and playing 14 minutes in a third round Coupe de France loss to LOSC Lille. The 6’2” attacker had 16 appearances with Sochaux B in the fifth division Championnat Nacional 3, scoring five goals.
The Petit-Bourg native had initial struggles with college soccer, described as “overly aggressive” and prone to “unnecessary fouls.” He wasn’t prolific in two seasons with the Orangemen, failing to start the majority of his matches and not exactly lighting up the stat sheet. However, he did score at November’s College Invitational Combine, which probably counts for something, of which I have no idea.
Immediate reactions to the selection were mixed. Broadcaster Jonathan Yardley described the club’s decision as “a reach.” Travis Clark of Top Drawer Soccer said Archimède was “his favorite pick so far,” noting that he “has the tools to excel via the Red Bull pathway.”
As a physical archetype, the pick is in line with what New York and, most importantly, Gerhard Struber want with a striker. Like 2018 SuperDraft pick and apparent incumbent starting forward Tom Barlow, Archimède fits the prototypical range of a tall, strong, and fast striker that can thrive in the vertical attacking high press. With the upcoming season’s attacks likely to involve an increase in crosses and centering passes, he has the ideal size to dominate defenders and speed to chase the ball to the corner. Some college players can struggle with finishing, but the second team should provide the right environment to build confidence and learn the up-tempo style.
Round 2 – Pick 40: Lamine Conte – Midfielder/Defender – Louisville
With their second pick, the Red Bulls selected the midfielder-defender originally from Guinea. Conte spent his youth career with the Philadelphia Union Academy before matriculating to the University of Mobile in the NAIA (an alternative to the NCAA composed of smaller schools). After two standout years, he transferred to Louisville.
With the Cardinals, the 5’11” Conte played three seasons, including an injury shortened redshirt year in 2019. During his final collegiate season, he started all eight matches. In November, the Conakry native took part in the College Invitational Combine hosted by Sporting Kansas City.
Conte was named the USL League Two Defensive Player of the Year in 2019 while playing with Reading United. “Lamine is a coach’s dream,” team administrator Chase Rusden told USLLeagueTwo.com. “[He is] the textbook definition of a captain: high soccer IQ, physical, aggressive, dominant in the air, more technical than your average center back, [and a] great communicator. Lamine is a true leader for his teammates on and off the field. His work ethic is second to none and he was a constant source of inspiration and motivation for his teammates.”
The downside of Conte is his age, but that hasn’t stopped college acquisitions from sticking with the Red Bulls in the past. His positional versatility, particularly the ability to play center back, is an asset. For now, he could be a useful asset at the USL level and could blossom into a member of the first team with development at the professional level.
College soccer is sometimes a necessary path for certain players not ready to sign a contract at 18 years old. Conte initially competed at a lower level than most academy graduates, outside of the NCAA. However, he has been on a steady upward trajectory and clearly has some underlying ability considering his defensive dominance of USL League Two.
Round 3 – Pick 67: AJ Marcucci – Goalkeeper – Connecticut College (Division III)
In what is perhaps the most interesting selection of the day, the Red Bulls reached all the way into the non-scholarship tier of college soccer to select Marcucci. He was a Division III All-American and twice named goalkeeper of the year by various outlets. During his tenure in New London, the Camels qualified for three straight NCAA tournaments, denied a fourth trip due to the COVID pandemic.
He is the first-ever player to be super-drafted from Connecticut College, a source of pride for the NESCAC school. “AJ is a true example of how dedication, commitment and self-belief can open up doors that others might say can’t be opened,” said Connecticut College head coach Reuben Burk. “We all look forward to watching AJ seize this opportunity… I know this is a dream come true for him.”
Now that he’s been selected, the real challenge begins. The Red Bulls are fairly stocked at goalkeeper, with the first team carrying two veterans (Ryan Meara, David Jensen) and a highly rated third-stringer in Luca Lewis whose long-term development is a priority and should be expected to claim the lion’s share of minutes with the USL reserve team. In a brief training period, Marcucci will have to convince the club of his viability as a professional, proving that he deserves a roster spot over an academy player or the regularly acquired, speculative international signing.
Round 3 – Pick 81: Pass – Pick acquired from Miami
The Red Bulls did not use the 81st pick. This selection was acquired – along with potentially $50,000 of General Allocation Money – in the trade that sent Patrick Seagrist’s rights to Inter Miami. The right back was drafted tenth in 2020 after the team traded $100,000 of GAM to the Chicago Fire. Using the transitive property, the club’s business with Seagrist involved paying either 50,000 or 100,000 of money for nothing, some truly dire straits.
Electing not to use the pick may be viewed as foolish. Why not acquire the rights to a player who at least shows up to a training session before being released? Maybe the Red Bulls genuinely had no interest in anyone remaining on the draft board, confident in academy talent pressing for USL minutes. Perhaps in a bold message to the league and media, New York wanted to signify the importance of possession in Gerhard Struber’s tactical system by electing to pass.
Outside of picking the best players on the board, the Red Bulls appear to have placed a priority on pedigree. Archimède and Conte spent time with highly rated youth academies, which tracks with many of the first-team signings from the past year. While there is no guarantee that any of the picks will appear in a single MLS match, they have the experience in a professional setup and should face slightly less of an adjustment struggle than many of their peers.