While the COVID-19 pandemic impacted sports at all levels, few areas were constricted by the situation as much as youth sports, particularly soccer. With the community gathering aspect of elite youth play in conflict with many public safety measures and quarantine regulations throwing schooling and venue schedules off kilter, the previously-burgeoning American youth soccer scene lost much of its rhythm.
However with vaccination becoming widespread, the older age groups are getting back to normal as parents are welcomed back to the facility for games and the New York Red Bulls academy schedule is expanded with more travel to face MLS teams up and down the East Coast. As covered in our interview last month with academy director Sean McCafferty, the Red Bulls are putting their focus into the U-17 and U-15 age group and removing the u-19 group. They refer to these groups as the pro pathway age groups with U-14 and younger as the development groups. We won’t focus on the younger age groups as it is too soon to really dive deep into.
The U-17 group covers 05 and 06 birth years. Also a few 04’s will be allowed to play down in select games. This is the first year for 06’s who essentially go from only playing kids their ages to playing kids a year older. For the Red Bulls, a lot of the top 05’s like Sam Williams and Serge Ngoma have moved up to get USL minutes and some are fully-signed such as Curtis Ofori. Despite these players being with Red Bulls II, this group is not without talent and many will be looking to follow those 05’s and be in the USL next season. This group is coached by Jonathan Rhodes who coached the 05’s and 06’s as U-15’s the past two years and has been promoted up an age group, something Red Bull does pretty consistently in their academies.
Here’s a breakdown of the players currently on the pro path at the Red Bulls Academy this fall.
The first new addition is Dylan Lacey. Lacey is a 10 who was previously with the Union Academy. He was a prospect with options including Philly who were still high on him. Lacey is someone who should push to be with the USL group come next season.
Davis is a tremendous athlete with incredible genes. Both his parents were high level track athletes. He is on the younger side as an 06 but has moved from California to be a part of the Red Bull program. A left-footed player with real upside who the staff is still trying to find his best spot be it on the wing as a striker or even a wing back.
Joined from Black Watch Premier, an academy affiliate. A striker who impressed playing against red bull. Main short-term objective is transitioning to the Red Bull system.
Another player who is still learning the philosophy but has the natural tools to play in the system physically. He is primarily a right back and someone who could push to be a depth piece for USL next season.
“You get the players that maybe don’t understand culture and then you get the players that already know how to play right and he’s one of them. He’s very aggressive against the ball so, fits us from day one” says Jonathan Rhodes of Prada.
As noted above many of the 05’s who would be keyed in on as first team prospects have signed USL deals or played as academy players there. However, their are core pieces who will be looking to push to join their peers at USL and potentially follow a path similar to Roald Mitchell who was a bit late to the USL scene but took his chance when he was there.
A player looking to make the push to the USL he is a versatile technician with an eye for picking out a pass. Ezra plays anywhere from the 8 to a back to the goal type of false nine. Super versatile. He is likely a player who ends up going the college route but if he has a good fall season look for him to be on the USL preseason roster.
Kyle may not push into USL due to the depth in midfield the club currently has however he is a great example of the bio banding process MLS employs at the academy leve. Bio banding allowed evans to spend an extra year with the U-15’s as he physically matured and this has allowed him to hit the ground running this season and be a leader for the group.
Ruiz is one of the leaders on the team a long time member of the academy he is a hard nosed number 6 as well as someone who will play as an outside back. For him the next step is improving his work on the ball when in possession. Defensively he is really on top of that side of the game. As a person he is also a player the staff lauds for his consistency and effort day in day out. The biggest thing that could hold him back is his physical growth and athleticism.
Idrizi is an undersized goalie which is really what may hold him back, though players like Luis Robles and Nick Rimando have shown that size isn’t everything in net. Where Dreni, a Kosovo youth international, excels in his understanding of the game. According to Rhodes the info he gives his center backs is years above where it should be and they don’t have a better technician in the academy in net.
Smajlaj is a center back who came on late in the spring and was voted as a captain by his teammates. Center back is always a tough position for kids to make the jump up from just due to the physical demands and maturity needed to play at the next level and especially so for the Red Bulls.
The 06’s in my opinion is where the higher ceiling talents sit for the two birth years that make up the core age group of the 17’s. The 06’s will be a bit slower to step into the team as they are jumping up two age levels and combining with the 05’s but by the spring I expect many to be major contributors. One place the 06’s have depth at is center back with three really standing out…
Agnaldo Germano, Jed Akwaboah, Ethan Ortiz
These three are the standouts and when talking to Jonathan Rhodes he couldn’t say one was better than the other. Rather they all have elements that each is better at being in the air in 1v1’s or playing out of the back. Since central defenders take more time to develop I wouldn’t expect them to jump into USL next season, but a lot can change between now and the end of spring.
“They have all of the attributes that you want to see in a center back and number one being that we’re all very good defenders and enjoy that aspect of the game right there they enjoy making the opponent’s life difficult. They do thrive in that environment. So we’ll see how that transition goes for them this year, but we’re still excited about all three of them as players.”
When you take out Bento Estrela, Berkley is probably one of the higher tier prospects among the 06’s. He is a player with the potential to sign directly to USL or MLS like a Daniel Edelman or a Curtis Ofori. Of the 06’s he is the most ready to contribute from the start and is a player the staff is high on. He is someone they see currently as an attacking midfielder. He is a physically mature for his age, is a good athlete who plays smart and isn’t rattled by the moment. He also moved up to the U-17’s in the spring last year so he isn’t new to the level.
The rest of the 06’s are a bit behind these guys and will be ones we will dive deeper into when we preview the spring season as that is when these players tend to start to break out and prove themselves. Sam Williams is a great example of this as a player who came in later to the Red Bull system and proved himself in the spring and was with the USL team in the summer.
Looking further into the future…
The final group of players is the three 07’s who are currently involved with the U-17’s. These are some of the highest tier prospects in the entire academy system as seen by their involvement with kids sometimes three years older than them. According to Rhodes these players are in a similar tier as a Curtis Ofori or a Serge Ngoma who as first year U-17’s were playing with the USL side.
Worth will see most of his time with the U-15’s but he is a very complete midfielder. Having seen him play I see a lot of similarities to guys like Daniel Edelman and John Tolkin in his understanding of the game and technical ability. Also like those two he isn’t a supreme athlete or the biggest guy but in the most simplest terms he is a baller.
“He trains three out of the four days a week with the 17’s. And there are some days that I would start him over all the players and he’s the number one center midfielder in the group, but to manage his workload and the physicality of the game. It’s important we are still giving him that exposure to the 15’s. So maybe early on in the fall. You’ll get a lot of minutes for the 15’s but you will be with the 17s environment every week.”
White is the son and namesake of former U.S. international Jeremiah White. A prospect out of the Philadelphia area, he has already gotten minutes with the 17’s. White is an unorthodox and not the normal Red Bull type according to Rhodes. However, his ceiling is very high due to his skill on the ball and ability to run at defenders. White is a lanky kid and reminds me a lot of a young Matt Olosunde who before settling on right back played quite a bit on the wing and had a knack for taking players one on one. White is a player they are very high on and want to give the freedom to make some mistakes as they don’t want to coach the expressive unorthodox elements out of him. Better Rhodes says to add the Red Bull way into what he already does so well.
Davi is an 07 CB who may be including the 06’s we highlighted earlier the best of the bunch. For a young player he does all of it well. He is strong in the air, good with his feet and solid in 1v1 situations. His ceiling is very high and like Nate Worth, the spring season could really be pushing into the U-17 lineup.