While the New York Red Bulls have been importing foreign talent at a rapid rate this year - with more apparently on the way - a piece of news on Wednesday afternoon showed there’s still room in the squad for a Long Island boy.
The Red Bulls announced the signing of center back Sean Nealis to a new three-year contract with a (brace yourself) option for the 2024 season. The Massapequa native and Hofstra alum is currently in his third professional season with the Red Bulls after being selected in the 2019 college draft.
As emphasized in the press release by head coach Gerhard Struber, Nealis has managed to significantly soften the blow of losing the talismanic Aaron Long in May. After two professional seasons in which he mostly played at reserve level in USL, Nealis has grasped his opportunity at consistent starts with both hands. Already dominant in the air at 6’4”, Nealis has made massive strides in his organizational and communication skills in the backline, and at just 24 years old is already moving with the confidence of a veteran leader in what is an exceptionally young squad.
The last comparable move to this that the Red Bulls made was the generous contract signed by Brian White following his prolific 2019 campaign, only to see the Jersey native struggle in the following years before a trade to Vancouver earlier this year. But unlike White capitalizing on a series of fortunate goal tallies in an otherwise barren offense, Nealis has earned the more abstract trust of his management through consistent performances over 2021 for a backline that has largely defended well despite personnel upheaval.
As the Red Bulls continue to transition towards a new era, Nealis becomes one of the earliest figures to be etched in as a building block for said era. While Kevin Thelwell’s scouring of the global market will surely remain an emphasis of the team’s personnel additions, the ability of the former Wolverhampton executive to identify and lock down reliable domestic talent will also be crucial to competing in the modern MLS.