Heading into Day 1 of the 2019 MLS SuperDraft with only 1 first round pick it seemed like things would be rather uneventful. By the end of the day, the New York Red Bulls had made two trades and drafted 4 players.
Grading on a curve, let’s take a look at how the Red Bulls did on draft day.
16 Roy Boateng (UC Davis): B+
Boateng is a 6-2 center back from UC Davis where he won the 2017 and 2018 Big West Conference defensive player of the year awards. What immediately stands out is his athleticism. He tested in the top 10 in the 30-yard dash and had the highest vertical at the combine. He showed his speed in the testing and on the field. Boateng made some really impressive recovering runs and tackles.
By all accounts, he is a great leader and he is solid in his positioning and in the air. Boateng’s ability to step high and press attackers as they receive the ball is still unknown. I also have concerns about his ability on the ball. The good thing is that he doesn’t have to be a day one starter and has the time and tools to develop those aspects of his game.
The 100k General Allocation Money sent to FC Cincinnati for the number 16 and 25 overall pick is another question. This could be considered a slight overpay, however, it is not egregious and near market value for those two picks outright.
On top of it, the Red Bulls have a ton of General allocation Money(Gam) after selling Tyler Adams(750,000 GAM) qualifying for CCL (140,000 GAM) and losing Hassan Ndam in the expansion draft (50000 GAM). It is also important to remember General Allocation Money expires after 3 transfer windows so they could have GAM that can be considered use it or lose it.
I think Boateng probably has the best shot to receive a first-team deal out of camp due to lack of depth at the position however I don’t see him making an early impact.
#22 Janos Loebe (Fordham): B
There is not as much to say about Loebe. It appears he will be converted from a left wing to a left back. He has all the technical skills to contribute to the attack as required of Red Bulls’ outside backs. In the second combine game, he showed he understood how to overlap and join the attack from the left back spot however showed naïveté as a defender. This is a player who the Red Bulls know well as he spent time with the u-23’s and someone they rated highly.
Whether or not he can make the transition remains to be seen. He also takes up an international spot which means he probably starts on a NYRBII deal. At 22, you are not going to find an instant impact player, so you are trying to get someone that you can develop. Loebe’s ceiling is high enough for them to have something to work with. The obvious negative is the international spot and the question if he can make the transition to left back which is why I’m giving this pick a B
#25 Sean Nealis (Hofstra): B
Sean Nealis was a surprise pick to me as he was not on my or many peoples radar but per usual that did not stop the Red Bulls. Nealis was the CAA Defender of the year a conference that had two teams in the NCAA tournament and saw one team get a win away from the college cup semi finals. He also was an academic All American a testament to his work in the classroom and his ability to learn.
There isn’t a great highlight tape, so I reached out to Richard Nuttle. Nuttle is the longtime coach of the Hofstra Pride who knows a lot more about Nealis than perhaps anyone else.
“As a player, he is a 6’4” supreme athlete who is rugged and reads the game defensively very well,” said Nuttle. “He was defender of the year in the highly competitive CAA conference this year. I can’t remember a header he lost this year. His one on one defending is exceptional along with his blazing recovery speed”
Coach Nuttle does not believe he is done growing either saying, “Every year at Hofstra, he has improved due to his enormous work ethic. I believe he will continue to evolve and mature as a player”
I give this pick a B in part because I have not been able to evaluate him my self and I also believe they may have been able to get him in the third round. However, between him and Boateng, I don’t expect NYRBII to lose many aerial duels this year.
#32 Rece Buckmaster (Indiana): A-
Buckmaster is a 5-9 right back who is very comfortable getting up and down the wings. He tested in the top 10 in the 30-yard dash showing he has the acceleration and top end speed to cover pacey wingers. At the combine, he looked very smooth when combining with midfielders and overlapping wingers. He thinks fast and shows he has good instincts on and off the ball. His 1v1 defending needs to improve. During the combine, he lost a few 1v1 challenges. The biggest question for me is if he has reached his ceiling.
This pick grade is an A- for now. The identity of the unnamed player traded to Chicago for this pick could change its value. Buckmaster was a player many had as a first rounder so to get him in the second is great value on paper. From what I saw at the combine he checks off a lot of the boxes you like to see in a Red Bulls’ fullback including athleticism comfort on the ball and good sense of positioning on the field. If he can take the step up to the next level and continue to improve this could be a really great pick.
I think the Red Bulls did a lot of good work Friday afternoon. They went from 1 pick to 4 and found solid players and decent value at every pick. The money spent matches market value. The Red Bulls addressed the biggest organizational need for depth at CB and outside back, essentially rebuilding NYRBII in one afternoon. A case could be made they put to much stock in the draft. However, I feel they did great not to overpay and still get the players they coveted, specifically Boateng and Loebe.
Photo by Bill Twomey Photography