Ahead of a packed schedule over the season’s last two months, the New York Red Bulls added two players from their USL reserve team to pad the depth chart. Forward and Harrison native Omar Sowe joins after three seasons at USL level, while less expected was the addition of AJ Marcucci, a first-year professional who becomes the first team’s fourth registered goalkeeper.
The first announcement was the signing of Sowe’s long-speculated agreement to an MLS contract. Sowe’s deal will cover this season and next with two option years after that. Born in Gambia but raised literally just down the road from Red Bull Arena, it marks a special moment Sowe and the club.
While the signing is in many ways a fairytale for a kid who was turned away after multiple academy trials and was only signed after dominating high school soccer, it also provides a lift for a team in need of depth up top. Sowe has shown in his time with Red Bull 2 that he is one of the cleanest strikers of the ball in the entire organization. Sowe also offers a nice blend of size and speed and should have no problem dealing with the physicality of MLS. He has also shown some raw elements to his game namely in his decision-making in the final third. However, with the first team Omar likely won’t be asked to shoulder as much of the creative load that he does with the reserves. What the first team is gaining is a striker who offers a different look than current backup Tom Barlow. In Omar they get a player who is comfortable dropping deeper to receive the ball and taking a player on to take a shot. Being surrounded by better players should also free him a bit to focus on only a few things and simplify the game for him.
It’s not uncommon for players called up to need the move to the first team to take the next step in their development. Caden Clark last year is a great example of this. While he was very good with Red Bulls II, he was quickly called up to the first team once he was hitting a wall where USL play had limited value. Omar is at a similar point where he needs to be around better players and at a higher level to see if he can take the next step. With the limited striker depth Omar will have a chance perhaps as soon as tonight to make his mark and we sure hope he does.
The second, more curious move of the day was the addition of goalkeeper AJ Marcucci, a Pennsylvania native and first-year pro out of Connecticut College. After being selected with the 67th overall pick of this year’s college draft, Marcucci caught the eyes of many observers in training camp and indeed saw immediate first team minutes at USL level despite the continued presence of young first team keeper Luca Lewis. But after that early season action he has curiously not made a USL appearance since August 1st, and while Marcucci certainly appears to be a player valued by Red Bulls brass, it is rare for clubs to carry more than three first team goalkeepers. One expects the addition of Marcucci to foreshadow another transactional shoe to drop, perhaps with Lewis or veteran backup Ryan Meara.