Are the New York Red Bulls building a loan army?
On Thursday it was announced by Icelandic first division club Breiðablik that they had acquired Gambian-American forward Omar Sowe from New York on a loan deal. The Red Bulls are yet to make an official press release on their end but the 21-year old Sowe has been officially photographed in his new club’s jersey and will likely be in Iceland for the bulk of 2022 as the Red Bulls continue to move players in their youth pipeline into new environments as much as possible.
A late bloomer in the academy scene, Sowe signed with the Red Bulls II professional reserves shortly after graduating just down the road at Harrison High School in 2019. After scoring 17 times over three USL seasons, Sowe finally earned an MLS contract with the Red Bulls late last summer, making one substitute appearance for Gerhard Struber.
Sowe’s loan comes in the wake of recent moves that have placed several of New York’s top youth prospects into new situations to test their mettle. Teenagers Daniel Edelman and Serge Ngoma have both been called up to the first team and made their MLS debuts in the season’s opening weeks, while RB2 forward Jake La Cava was sent on what would initially appear to be a lateral loan to rival USL Championship club Tampa Bay Rowdies.
Sowe’s move to the tiny nation of Iceland would also appear to be counterintuitive to the premise of a young prospect continuously moving up the ladder rather than laterally or even downward. But the move is a chance to not only experience life in a new country, but gain professional confidence that could set him on the radar screen of Europe’s peripheral leagues should a future in the New York first team not materialize again.
But in either outcome, New York’s overhauled youth pipeline is working as intended. As New York academy director Sean McCafferty voiced to OaM’s Eric Friedlander earlier this week, the club has placed an emphasis on setting new challenges for its players as much as possible rather than letting them become complacent with familiarity. La Cava and Sowe could surely have built on their USL experience and become relative veterans in the Red Bulls II setup for another season. But such a plan would have not only blocked standout academy players from new challenges at USL level, but would have prevented preseason standouts like Zach Ryan and O’Vonte Mullings from earning their first professional tests in the early part of the year.
The club’s youth focus in recent years has perhaps not been the most popular roster rebuild strategy. But it cannot be denied that the club continues to practice what it preaches.