The New York Red Bulls youth development setup is already yielding tremendous success for the first team. Tyler Adams, Sean Davis, and Alex Muyl have added tons of value to a club that values their homegrown players. Still, there is another component that is equally responsible for the recent youth revolution at the Red Bulls.
The Red Bulls success owes an equal share to local scouting and their invite only college combine.
Carlo Acquista: Scouting for the future at the Red Bulls combine
Fans of the Red Bulls no doubt know the names Florian Valot and Vincent Bezecourt. The young French midfielders earned first team contracts in the offseason. They also carved out roles and MLS minutes after featuring in the USL for the last two seasons.
The two are noteworthy because they came up through USL development, but did not belong to the Red Bulls Academy. Valot adjusted to life in MLS very quickly. In just over 1100 minutes, Valot notched three goals and five assists. He appeared in 14 of the Red Bulls 16 games this season before succumbing to a torn ACL.
Bezecourt saw minutes more often as a sub, but he gained the trust of former head coach Jesse Marsch as a spot starter. During the team’s run to the semi-finals of the Concacaf Champions League, Bezecourt started a number of games, earning plaudits for his performances.
So where did these guys come from?
The Red Bulls scouted and evaluated them at their invite only college combine. Other recent players scouted at the college combine are Andrew Tinari, Jordan Scarlett, Jordan Stroud, Jose Aguinaga, and Ethan Kutler. Kutler also earned a contract with the first team, filling in at right back during the absence of Michael Amir Murillo at the FIFA World Cup.
With the combine taking place the week of July 15th, Carlo Acquista, the Red Bulls assistant scout, shed some light on the process of identifying the players that earn invites to the event.
“Most of these players here stood out maybe a moment of a match,” said Acquista from the combine Tuesday. “Or a video that we scouted and [we] kept an eye on. We want to see if those moments build up to more of a story.”
For the players coming into the combine, finding their footing and showing their potential is not easy. Setting expectations for those players is important.
“We’re looking for guys that could potentially fit the Red Bull philosophy and style of play.” said Acquista. “Obviously, high character people are the most important piece of the puzzle when you’re putting a team together. A few things that we went over yesterday – Day One of the combine – were expectations. My expectation for them is just to put your best foot forward. Everything else will fall into place.
“A few things that we look at here, a little bit on a microscopic level; three or four different items would be the press, the counter-press, the reaction to losing the ball, are they in tune, are they aggressive, and are they forward thinking. And that’s very important. Obviously, we’re always looking for good players with the ball that are comfortable, but that should be said automatically.”
Skill and technical ability are important attributes, but the soccer mind is equally important. The aforementioned success stories of the combine all share a similar characteristic. As Acquista describes it, the transition for the best players comes naturally.
“For me, the little bit that I know of them from being here for just six months, is they just got it, quickly,” said Acquista. “They came here as good players, players that had ideas. Then, once we put them into the system and philosophy, it kind of came to life.”
The timing of the combine is another important piece of the scouting puzzle. Having the combine take place in the summer makes the scouts job easier during the college soccer season. Getting a look at the players ahead of their college season means that the scouting lens is focused on those players that already impressed during the combine. After following the progress of those players during the college season, they get back to a winter combine for a final look.
Acquista’s hard work lives in the success stories he helps to produce. When a player like Valot flourishes, it validates the process. Watching the players mature and grow beyond the combine field is the final perk for Acquista.
A scouts job continues after player identification. Following those players through their career tells the story of the scout that identified them.
“That’s what scouting is; it’s not just on one day, it’s building a bigger chapter. And, if you get a couple of chapters filled in, then it becomes a book, and then you have something.””