Can you find quality players in the SuperDraft anymore? Do the New York Red Bulls still have Denis Hamlett in charge of draft affairs? Exactly how much value does GAM have anymore these days?
All these questions were raised and not really answered on Tuesday afternoon’s Major League Soccer SuperDraft. Despite the general decline in the draft’s importance to league activity (to the point that it had become a virtual broadcast rather than an in-person event even before the pandemic) the Red Bulls have remained one of the busier operators in it. Tuesday was no different as the club were one of the draft’s main movers, shakers and attention-grabbers in a variety of characteristic ways.
While one might have expected New York sporting chief Kevin Thelwell to be precisely the type of youth-focused foreign executive who bypasses the increasingly superfluous college draft, the Red Bulls have not exactly gone through the motions in recent dispersals. For the third time in four years New York traded up in the first round, though this time with the biggest price tag yet on three trades that generated two picks. The Red Bulls spent $100k each to cut in line from their initial 15th overall pick, first acquiring the 11th pick from Montreal before moving the same pick to Chicago for the right to make their first pick of the day at 7th overall. As mentioned by yours truly before the festivities, the recent versions of the Red Bulls have liked to draft physical weapons rather than less-projectable technicians. They certainly did not disappoint on this front with their opening selection.
Two years on from bringing in the 6’7” Joe Fala to the reserve team and days after the news that last year’s 6’6” first team signing Issiar Dramé is seeking new opportunities in Switzerland, the Red Bulls selected Matthew Nocita, a 6’8” central defender who becomes the latest giant who New York will attempt to mold into a matchup nightmare at professional level. A Los Angeles native, Nocita is a cadet at the United States Naval Academy, winning numerous accolades for his exploits on the Midshipmen soccer team. It is as of yet unclear how Nocita plans to navigate the service commitments inherent to attending the national military universities, but presumably he wouldn’t have rubbed his hands like Birdman while donning RBNY gear if he didn’t plan on making an honest go at professional soccer.
While Denis Hamlett sat representing the Red Bulls on the video conference screen with the confidence of a man on a joyride with a few hundred thousand dollars of soon-to-expire General Allocation Money, yet another trade for a first round pick was made. New York acquired the 20th pick in the first round from Seattle Sounders for a second round pick as well as an unspecified amount of Hamlett’s wad of GAM, and with it they chose O’Vonte Mullings, a Canadian forward from Florida Gulf Coast University. Remarked upon by MLS analysts during the broadcast for his high speed and work rate, the acquisition of the Toronto native along with last month’s of Lewis Morgan perhaps points to a Red Bulls setup that will employ wingers more readily next season. Mullings lists his favorite book as The Road and I must warn him to avoid some of the more zealous McCarthy fans on the club’s podcast scene.
The Red Bulls would not draft again until the third round, in which their 71st overall pick was used to select goalkeeper Giannis Nikopolidis from Georgetown University. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because his father Antonios Nikopolidis earned 90 caps for the Greek national team including serving as the starting goalkeeper for the team that won Euro 2004. With Luca Lewis departing in the offseason, Nikopolidis likely slots in as AJ Marcucci’s main senior competition at Red Bulls II and for the first team’s third goalkeeper slot, though his international status likely complicates the latter.
The final draft pick made by the Red Bulls in 2022 was just minutes later when Seth Kuhn from Penn State was selected using a 73rd overall pick gained from Minnesota in an obscure trade for homegrown player Aziel Jackson last year. Not only has Kuhn appeared on Sportscenter’s Top 10 Plays for a looping long-range goal that was condescendingly described by the anchor, he also has been poached from Philadelphia Union’s academy pipeline.
Such thievery is only fair considering the Red Bulls had their own developmental pockets picked on a couple occasions Tuesday. Former academy standout Kevin O’Toole (who continued to play with Red Bulls U-23 during summers away from Princeton) was selected by rivals New York City FC 34th overall in the second round. Then in the third round it was Michael Knapp, who ended up using rotation status on the Red Bulls II roster this year to earn an MLS selection by Austin FC at 61st overall.
The Red Bulls were not one of the five teams that were awarded a compensatory pick at the end in this year’s draft. What, the Red Bulls don’t need compensation? Fine, give them that chip on the shoulder early, I guess.