I have a rule when it comes to academy players. I won’t give any real opinions until I have seen at least 45 minutes and I won’t highlight negatives until I have seen closer to two full matches. In order to speak to the level I wish, I took a trip on May, 18th to East Hanover to immerse my self into the academy experience.
First things first. If you make a trip to the farm, and spend close to 6 hours there, bring sunscreen. The sun burns bright and I got home with quite the sunburn. One could say, I looked like a brit after a trip to the Caribbean. If you know, you know.
If you have never been to the training facility it is top notch. It consists of two grass fields and a turf field, as well as a grass field that is strictly for the academy. The U-19’s and u-17’s played on the grass academy field and the U-15’s were on the Turf.
Academy matches are not a whole lot different than your normal youth matches. You have parents watching from the stand occasionally shouting encouragement and a rare instruction. Parents sit beside college coaches, US Soccer scouts, and Denis Hamlet, the Red Bulls technical director. On the day I saw coaches from St Johns and Syracuse.
After setting the scene, let’s look at the matches. The three matches came against Montreal Impact who have a very talented Academy. On the whole, they were all very similar matches. The Red Bulls were the better team, but Montreal took advantage of their counter ability. The Final results were a 3-3 tie for the U-19’s, a 2-2 tie for the U-17’s and a 3-1 loss for the U-15’s.
I left the U-19’s match in the 75th minute with them up 3-1 in order to go watch the U-15 so I don’t know how it ended 3-3. However a few things stood out to me.
For starter the U-19’s lack speed on the wings so they are very reliant on combination play between a group of skillful attacking midfielders, like Sal Esposito and Jeciel Cedeno. Neither player was bad but neither was wildly impressive. Esposito was the better of the two and someone I would like to see get some minutes with NYRBII this summer.
On the defensive side of the ball, I really liked what I saw from Amir Daley. Daley is a 2002 birth year and was playing up for the U-19’s. He has good positional sense and instincts around overlapping runs, but lacks strength. He reminds me of Kyle Duncan stylistically. The next step is to bulk up and get stronger so he isn’t as easily muscled off the ball. Ryan Schultz also impressed. The Michigan bound Schultz showed clear backline leadership. He is the type of guy who could end up a very solid defender after 4 years in college.
I’ve already raved about this kid on Twitter, but the clear standout was Omar Sowe. He is easily the best player in the academy right now. He is physically dominant, but he isn’t reliant on those tools to succeed. Off the ball his movement and positioning sense is very strong and he can finish. His goal was a nice chip over the goalkeeper. Sowe’s assist came after trapping a ball off his chest in the box, dominating a defender, and squaring the ball to a teammate.
I’ve heard whispers that the Red Bull will have to move quickly if they want him, as college is not currently the plan. He joined in November, so if he was to sign a homegrown deal, he would be eligible right in time for next preseason. In the meantime, I would like to see him with NYRBII. I believe he is just as good as the other strikers on the roster
I caught about 3/4 of this match but saw most of the action. Like your standard Red Bull Match the U-16’s dominated, and Montreal caught them twice on the counter. John Tolkin stood out as a steady left back. It looked like the match came easy to him and he scored a nice penalty to tie the match. I was also impressed by Bryce Lebel. Bryce is a Junior who recently committed to Louisville who can play center back and left back. In this match he looked very strong at both spots but especially left back where he was whipping nice early balls into the box.
The U-15’s were very unlucky on the day against a Montreal Impact team that has not lost all year. For starters, the first goal by Montreal was offsides, but the AR, a Montreal staffer, was behind the play by a good 20 yards. After that, the Red Bulls had a questionable offside call disallow a goal .
On top of all that, the center referee lacked any ability to control the match, and had a questionable understanding of the rules. Included in this was a crazy sliding save from Montreal’s goalkeeper, a ball or two off the post, and a inadvertent block by a defender on Montreal. In every aspect but the final score, the Red Bulls were the better team.
There were quite a few notable things in the match.
First: Dontouma “YaYa” Toure was back. He still is incredibly fast and playing with the U-15’s is a great way to get his fitness and confidence back. This was his second match back and the natural ability was clear to see.
Second: Kenan Hot was as advertised. This was not his best match, but you could tell that he was above the level of his peers. He played a bit at the 10 and 6, however, long term he projects to be an 8. It was evident that he has an advanced soccer mind and that will become more evident as he moves up and plays with more players thinking at the same speed. Kenan played up when he was at PDA and that has aided his development. Hot rarely overplays giving up the ball and making the right passes even if its a simpler play. He has a very bright future and I look forward to seeing how he continues to develop.
I strongly believe that the talent level in the academy is still very strong. Looking towards next year, the U-19’s will be much improved with a very strong defensive core. They will have to bring in some recruits to bolster the attack.
The u-17’s should also be strong as the current U-15’s help boost a strong group of 2003’s lead by Roald Mitchell, and Thomas Tulgar up top, Tapiwa Shumba in the middle, and Joey Zalinsky at Center back. Shumba will compliment Hot nicely in the midfield and Tulgar, who was set back by injuries this season, will show the form that got him the golden boot in the next generation tournament in Austria and 20+ goals at the U-15 level.