On Tuesday morning New York Red Bulls announced the signing of 14-year-old Bento Estrela to a homegrown contract, making him the youngest player in the club’s history. Turning 15 tomorrow, he becomes the third-youngest homegrown signing in MLS history, behind Freddy Adu and current Chicago Fire goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina.
The signing comes as a major reward for Estrela’s two excellent years in youth play since he joined the academy. The Bloomfield, New Jersey native with parents from Portugal has turned heads on the stage of game action both against domestic and international opponents above his age level - he’s scored at both the under-19 level stateside as well as impressed in the ICC Futures Tournament against top academy teams from across the world.
“Bento has stood out at the academy level and progressed quickly while playing with an older age group,” said Red Bulls sporting chief Kevin Thelwell in a press release. “By bringing him into our professional environment, we aim to maximize his development and give him the best chance to grow as a player and a person.”
The very young midfielder already possesses a powerful frame, already standing 6’0”. Eric Friedlander of Red Bull Hub described Estrela as “a long athletic kid capable of playing in all 3 midfield spots. He possesses good skill on the ball and the range to spray passes in order to switch points of attack.” TopDrawerSoccer lists him as the #4 player in the country at his age level, a ranking supported by his status as a four-star prospect in their database.
Though Estrela probably won’t see MLS minutes this year, the benefits of merely training amongst top level professionals are large in his overall development as a player. In addition, he’ll likely also receive minutes at the USL level with Red Bulls II, providing crucial experience that has helped prior future Red Bulls (most notably Tyler Adams) get their feet wet in the professional game.
But in the long-term, his new senior club have secured the rights to a talented youngster with a European passport who is likely to find suitors overseas in the years to come. As the Red Bulls and the rest of MLS continue to lock younger and younger academy players down while European teams continue to recruit more American talent, the collision course could leave the careers of many young players stalled as collateral damage. But the best way to ensure not getting lost in the increasingly competitive web of American soccer development is to work hard and play well, and all signs so far indicate Bento Estrela is ready to do just that.