What should have been a quiet reserve team scrimmage against a local amateur club was…still a quiet reserve team scrimmage against a local club. But it did give us some hints about how the New York Red Bulls could address one of the more thin sections of their squad.
The Red Bulls II reserve team played old friends West Chester United on Tuesday in East Hanover, playing to a 3-2 defeat. But while the competitive result is unlikely to gain much attention, the team’s lineup raised some eyebrows.
Tonight’s Starting XI:— New York Red Bulls II (@NYRBII) March 2, 2022
Giannis Nikopolidis (Draft)
Mustafa Kizza (Trialist)
Daniel De Leon (Trialist)
Delasi Batse (Trialist)
First was the re-emergence of Jason Pendant, the veteran French-born left back who played only fringe MLS minutes in 2021 and had not been visible in the club’s preseason activity. Pendant, who is reportedly close to joining the Vietnam national team setup ahead of the upcoming new World Cup cycle, played the opening half in what are his first documented minutes of 2022.
The 25-year-old Pendant’s presence is not likely to excite many New York fans — his performances in MLS have been inconsistent at best and he clearly doesn’t have the trust of Gerhard Struber’s staff. But with teenager John Tolkin as the only left-footed defensive player deemed playable in MLS by Struber, fans will be mildly relieved by the knowledge that at least an emergency option at the position is available, even if through a web of USL loaning and international slot-swapping.
But if Pendant’s re-emergence doesn’t provide a great deal of novelty to New York’s 2022 story, a second left-footed defender listed on the team sheet appears to be Struber and acting sporting chief Denis Hamlett’s first attempt at adding depth in such an area of the field. Mustafa Kizza, a Ugandan left back who spent the last two seasons in MLS with CF Montreal, was listed in the lineup as a trialist.
Having made 20 league appearances for the Quebec side, the 22-year-old Kizza still has a thin amount of window left be a legitimate project for New York. Red Bulls II assistant coach and fellow Ugandan Ibrahim Sekagya was cited as recommending Kizza to Thierry Henry ahead of his move to Montreal in 2020, and the former international surely played a role in arranging a New York trial for the defender. Kizza, who already has 12 senior international caps for his country, is also a product of Kampala Capital City Authority, the club who New York recently added teenage midfielder Steven Sserwadda from. Kizza and Sserwadda also share the same agent.
Kizza’s presence in the lineup along with Pendant implies that one of the two was playing as a center back the 3-4-3/5-4-1 formation that Gerhard Struber and the club appear committed to this season. After all, what is a Red Bulls fullback if not a backup center back in waiting?