This was not the season that New York Red Bulls II had envisioned, missing the playoffs for the first time in club history. However it was not unsuccessful. With a season interrupted and altered by COVID-19 John Wolyniec was left with little time to teach a very young side the Red Bull system and little reinforcement from the first team due to coronavirus safety measures.
To make maters worse, captain Kyle Zajec, who was in fine form and was being leaned on as a veteran leader, sustained a season ending injury only a few games into the season. So where did the success appear? It was in the emergence of young prospects. For starters Caden Clark came in a top prospect with high expectations and he met them showing his ability throughout the season. He is already in first team training and his signing with the first team is a question of when not if.
On top of that Omar Sowe, Jake Lacava and new goalkeeper signing Luca Lewis will all train with the first team until the end of the season, a great chance to impress new coach Gerhard Struber and capturing the true purpose of Red Bull II, which is integration and promotion to the first team.
Finally, the academy players gained great experience with many showing that they belong at this level. Bo Cummins, Kenny Hot, Dantouma Toure, and Joey Zalinksy really made the most of the minutes they were given down the stretch. The improvement in each was clear to see and the future is incredibly bright.
So now on to the hard part. Part of the model at New York Red Bulls II is that the player pool is consistently churned. Over the past 6 seasons, 135 players have played for the USL team. With some really strong talents at the academy level currently and Kevin Thelwell desire to push young players up, the churn this year could be massive with not many returning.
So here are my predictions of how things will shake out. Academy players will not be included in this, only players strictly on the Red Bulls II roster. Caden Clark will also not be included as he is already in line for promotion.
Rito returned from a nasty ankle injury last year but failed to show that he was anywhere near a first team player. He is blessed with great speed but that alone is not worthy of promotion. His defensive awareness is poor leaving him out of position often, his decision making left much to be desired and his energy levels wavered frequently. At 24 with young outside backs already on the first team it is time to move on.
Elney got a chance this year to start in his more natural striker position versus the winger slot he played off the bench last year. However, his goal scoring return is not good enough. Omar Sowe outperformed him and the first team has plenty of strikers. A third season won’t show us anything new meaning it is time for Red Bull to move on.
Lapsley was thrown into the deep end and essentially sunk. It’s a tough position to be in, however, with the arrival of Luca Lewis it seems unlikely that New York will keep him around. A chance does exist they keep him to be a backup but it seems more likely they look to the draft again.
Kilwien shows flashes of his ability both athletically and defensively, however, by year two you are looking for more consistency and it felt this year like things got more inconsistent. Players rarely get a third year.
Dieye was billed as an electrifying winger coming out of college and he flashed that potential. However, he also consistently overplayed while dribbling when he should’ve passed and ended up losing the ball. His off the ball movement was poor and he never seemed to fully come to grips with the system. His athletic potential could lead Red Bull to keep him, but if it was me in charge I would move on. In many ways he reminds me of Zeiko Lewis who is doing quite well in USL. Red Bull may just not be the place for him to develop.
Sharifi is a player I have liked for a while. This one is strictly a numbers game. The Red Bull Academy has a bunch of really good midfield prospects. We saw two this year in Kenny Hot and Daniel Edelman, and more are in the pipeline. Sharifi is more than capable of playing at this level and I expect him to continue his professional career if he does get cut.
This one is for much of the same reason as Sharifi. Bounthong was played out of position early on and did his best. When given a chance in the midfield he showed he has the ability to play at this level, it’s just a numbers game with top tier younger prospects in the pipeline.
This category, I admit, is a copout. However, as this is half what I would do and half a prediction I’m keeping it. These are reserved for the players I really can’t decided one way or the other.
The former Manchester City prospect flashed potential but struggled with fitness and didn’t really get a consistent run of games. What leads me to keeping him is his soccer IQ and ability to beat a guy off the dribble despite not being incredibly pacey. I would want to see more just not sure the Red Bulls will.
Injuries have set him back quite a bit and that may be reason enough to move on. However, just like Jordan Scarlett got a third year after his first was interrupted with injuries Boateng could be afforded that opportunity as well. The center-back pool in the academy isn’t the deepest so it could be worth keeping him around.
You ask me this 2-3 weeks ago and he is first on my cut list. But I have to remind myself that he is learning a brand new position and down the stretch he looked better as far as understanding his space. It wouldn’t shock me if Red Bull look to keep developing him and seeing if they can turn a 6’7″ athlete former striker in to a center-back.
He deserves a true second year and having a veteran midfielder to help mentor the young academy guys isn’t a bad thing.
This one is an obvious keep. LaCava showed his pace and power across multiple roles on the frontline. He is a sleeper candidate for a first team contract especially if he can impress while training with the first team. He has the physical attributes to compete in MLS now.
Sowe started to look like the player who stood out in the academy. He may need another season at USL but he is on the right path to being a future first team player.
He looked good in the few games he played despite not training in a team setting since February. He is the number 1 next year and potentially the future for the Red Bulls at the goalie position, only time will tell.
Who is Next in the Pipeline?
We know the academy has talent that will be brought in, however the roster will need to be filled out with some players from the college ranks.
It’s unclear how deep The Red Bulls will dive into the college pool, but a few names do come to mind. The first is Kevin O’Toole, who has 22 appearances for New York Red Bulls II as an academy player. He can play left-back, right-back or in the attack, and makes sense as a homegrown option. An academy option could be Curtis Ofori, who is a left back currently playing with the Under-19s. He is only 15 but has impressed coaches at the academy level.
Another potential option is Austin Brummet. Brummet was last with Seattle Sounders and featured with Seattle’s USL team Tacoma Defiance. He is no longer listed with Seattle and rumors have it that he may be joining the Red Bulls Academy. He would strengthen the striker depth and add another talented 2004 born player to the team along side Hot and Toure.