Ahead of what’s likely to be their final season in the USL, New York Red Bulls II released their preseason roster and plans. The team is currently still in assembly, with new head coach Gary Lewis as well as players Jeremy Raffanello, Steven Sserwadda, Lamine Conte, and Curtis Ofori in MLS preseason with the first team in California. The preseason roster features the usual heavy dose of trialists, some of whom are familiar names stemming from past academy or even RB2 involvement and some it’s hard to find any info on whatsoever.
2022 PRESEASON ROSTER
Key: Rostered Player, Academy Player, Trialist Player ^^, Unsigned Draft Pick ^^^
Goalkeepers: Giannis Nikopolidis ^^^, Derrek Chan ^^, Jason Dubrovich ^^
Defenders: Curtis Ofori, Lamine Conte, Juan Castillo, Christopher Cragwell, JC Cortez, Maurice Williams ^^, Mohamed Coulibaly ^^, Delasi Batse ^^, Daniel De Leon ^^
Midfielders: Steven Sserwadda, Michael Knapp, Sam Williams, Nicholas Rabiu, John Murphy ^^, Esteban Molina ^^
Forwards: Jeremy Rafanello, Jordan Adebayo-Smith, Austin Brummett, Illia Tyrkus, Ezra Widman, Jonathan Filipe ^^
Is the next Aaron Long or Tyler Adams or even just the next Jared Stroud waiting in the wings? We break down what to know about the preseason reserve squad below…
The goalies are a pretty straight forward group with draft pick Nikopolidis the likely favorite to earn a roster spot. The Georgetown senior earned 3rd team all Big East honors in his senior year and had earned All-American nods in prior seasons. Derrek Chan was invited to the Florida MLS team camp before linking up with Red Bulls II. If Red Bull decides to roster a second goalie for the USL team then he stands a good chance of getting the position — though it’s not something they have done recently. It could happen this year but the safe assumption is they only roster 1 goalie with AJ Marcucci coming down from the first team. Dubrovich is currently committed to do his final season at UC San Diego and is likely in, so the staff can take a look at another prospect rather than fighting for a roster spot.
This is the most interesting area as far as I’m concerned. It is an area of the field where the team struggled a lot in 2021, often fielding players out of position. One of the biggest issues was at center back and this is represented in the trialists they’ve invited and the signings they have made.
For starters they bring back Lamine Conte who has had his visa issues sorted and is eligible to play this season. He was expected to be a rock for the team last year and it will be good to get an extended look at him this season.
In Christopher Cragwell, Red Bull has brought in a young defensive prospect from Panama who already has first team experience under his belt. As the signing is a loan with an option to buy it’s low risk but high reward. This is the exact type of signing that should be more common, a young prospect with real first team experience from a smaller nation who you can mold into your system. These types of signings have been crucial to Salzburg success often finding prospects in Africa that they start with their 2 team equivalent Liefering. New York should aim to do similar in the Central American and Caribbean market.
The trialists include Maurice Williams, a West Orange native who was a stand out defender for the U-23 team this past summer. Williams is dominant in the air and has the athleticism to excel in the Red Bull system. He does have a year left of college eligibility and could elect to take it. Last season Jordan Bailon was in camp only to head back to college. Daniel De Leon is the other primary center back trialist. De Leon is from Minnesota and not much is known about him. He was a standout in high school and had some trials as well as a stint for a U-20 team in Costa Rica but has yet to latch on anywhere.
At outside back you have the primary guy as left back Curtis Ofori. He looks to have bulked up in the offseason and is aiming to get a lot more minutes in his second season as a professional. He flashed his potential last season and will have a shot to lock down the position.
The rest of the options I am dubbing tweeners because they are able to and have played both centrally and outside back. JC Cortez is up from the academy for another year. He spent a good amount of time with Peru’s national team in the offseason and is slated to attend UCLA in the fall. A left back by trade, if he gets stronger I like him long term as a center back as well, especially in 3-man back line.
Juan Castillo returns for a second season after an inconsistent first. His athleticism flashed but his game was not always the cleanest as he struggled with his positioning on the field. I liked what I saw of him at center back and like Cortez think he could do well in a similar role that Andrew Gutman played as the outside CB in a 3-man back line.
Finally you have Delasi Batse, who stands 6’2” and played both center back and right back in college. His highlights show a players with terrific straight line speed who can whip in a cross or step aggressively as a defender. He is raw in some aspects of his game however he fills a position of need and could make for an interesting prospect.
Not much could be found on Coulibaly outside of his talent in selling shoes.
The midfield only features two new players, neither of whom are that new. John Murphy spent time with New York Red Bulls II while in the academy. Since then he has bounced around attending college for one year and last playing with Union Omaha in USL League 1. He is back in New York, getting another shot with the Baby Bulls. Estaban Molina is also a former academy player who last played for a lower division team in Colombia. If you can find stats from his time there please share because I couldn’t find anything.
Jordan Adebayo-Smith is the major addition to this group as key 2021 pieces Brummett and Rafanello return. The pacey striker is an interesting prospect who will add needed verticality to the front line. Academy prospect Ezra Wideman is a hybrid type having played on the wings as well as as deep as an 8 for the academy. He’s been one of the better 05’s in the academy and gets rewarded with this opportunity. Tyrkus is an out-and-out striker who joined the academy this fall and was someone the coaches thought could get to this level when we talked at the onset of the academy season.
Finally Jonathan Filipe is a Fairfield University product and another academy alum. He scored 10 goals and had 6 assists as a senior. Filipe can play anywhere on the frontline. Due to the depth between both teams at this spot I would lean towards him being more of a long shot to make the roster.