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The Red Bull Academy Season kicked off recently with new coaches and a new academy director. This of course means changes and new philosophies. While the press is not going away, more emphasis will be placed on valuing the ball, and building with it.
I wouldn’t expect Red Bull to be playing like Barcelona, or Manchester City, stylistically, however possession will be of a much greater importance than last year, where the teams often relied on kick and chase style.
Another twist is a different formation that both the U-15’s and U-17’s deployed. In the past, a 433, or 4231, was standard, however, earlier this year, both teams deployed a 4312/41212, relying on the full backs to push high to press and add width in attack.
As a general rule, I don’t really pay much attention to any age group below U-15. My exposure to this team is limited to the one match I saw the first weekend of September.
Another rule I have is that I don’t try to project long term until players are U-17 and above. The reason for that is that these kids are still so young, and have a ton of physical, mental, and emotional growth ahead of them. So before I bore you with my rules, lets jump into a general overview of the roster.
This year, goalkeeping duties will be split between Parker Smith, and Dreni Idrizi. Idrizi made a few appearances with the U-15’s last year, and plays for the Kosovo National team, which kept him away from preseason and the game I saw.
Parker Smith started the first two games of the season and showed promise. He was very vocal, which is good to see in a young keeper, and showed a solid approach on a big 1v1 save.
The U-15’s defense impressed me. They time tackles well, and the outside backs showed a good awareness of how to shift and step in order to press high up the field. The time at outside back will be spread pretty evenly, however, Carter Smith and Curtis Ofori stood out. Ofori, who has been called up to U-14 ID camps, showed toughness and closed space well. Carter Smith was very progressive going forward and is a natural athlete. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a winger early in his career.
At center back, time looks set to be split between Jackson ten Oever, Andrew Barclay, and new comer Paul Smajlaj. They all had a good nose for the ball making many well timed challenges.
As is normal midfield is a crowded position, so we will only touch on a few players. The first is Erick Ruiz. Ruiz was at the base of the diamond midfield, and seemingly everywhere. Despite not being the biggest, he won a ton of duels both on the ground and in the air. He also showed a good ability to distribute the ball side to side and keep things moving.
Ezra Widman is another who stood out. He is on the bigger side, and is still figuring out his body, but showed good skill on the ball, and was not afraid to take a shot. He scored 14 goals for the U-14’s last year, and already has 2 in 3 games this year as a box to box number 8.
Up front Luciano Sanchez looks set to lead the lines. He scored 12 last year with the U-14’s, but has 3 in 3 games to start the season. Two other attackers I will be keeping my eye on are Leonard Aviles and Bento Estrela. They are both playing up an age level this year.
Last year, I said the U-17’s should bounce back this season, and I still believe that to be true.
However, the team is young, and will have growing pains. It was clear to me they are still adjusting to the new formation and figuring out how everyone fits within it. I also expect some players not currently on the roster to be added at some point. This group is a mix of ’03 and ’04 birth years and one ’05. On top of that, a few age eligible players will be with the U-19’s most of the season. Currently, the U-17’s are undefeated, with wins against Bethesda, and DC United. They also tied against Baltimore Armour.
The roster currently has three goalkeepers. Andrew Noel (’03), Ciaran Dalton (’04), and Josh Nadison (’04).
Josh Nadison joined from Cedar Star Academy, and will most likely battle with Dalton for the top spot when he returns from injury.
Dalton started almost every game for the U-15’s and was part of MLS goalie summit in Germany that saw top academy goalies train for a week as part of a partnership with the DFB.
This defense is young and will have growing pains. In a best eleven, it is probably split evenly between 03’s and 04’s, with JC Cortez and Carmelo Carbone at left and right backs respectively, with Max Andrews and Joey Zalinksy at CB.
However, Zalinsky and Justin Aguirre, another outside back, will spend most of the season with the U-19’s. This leaves the team with a backline made up almost exclusively of 04’s and lacking depth at outside back.
Carbone is a natural midfielder but is versatile and will do a good job at right back. Andrews has improved a ton on the ball from the last time I saw him, and this will only get better with more being expected of CB on the ball. Liam Winograd, who joined from Cedar Stars Academy, will partner Andrews at center back when Zalinsky is with the u-19’s.
I’m not totally sold that the 4132/41212 formation is the best for the personnel of this team however in that setup the midfield will rely heavily on Kenan Hot, Tapiwa Shumba, Edwin Melendez and Cristian LoGrasso.
Hot (’04) will sit in the deeper midfield spot and has the freedom to pick his spots to move forward. While the game gets faster at each level, it also opens up. Hot will benefit from the extra space that wasn’t always available at the U-15 level and will be a key player for this team. He is in good form to start the year, and showed his ability to strike the ball against Bethesda.
Tapiwa Shumba (’03) and Edwin Melendez (’03) will be in the wide cm positions tasked with being aggressive in the press and providing some width. Shumba is a player I like, however, he is probably better suited as a ball winner in a double pivot. To succeed in the 4132/41212, his play in the wide zones needs to improve. LoGrasso moved at the end of last season from NYCFC and is the team’s 10. He will need to be strong in tight spaces and find the strikers runs quickly in order to succeed.
The forward line this season will be led by Thomas Tulgar (’03), Roald Mitchell (’03) and Serge Ngoma (’05).
Dantouma “Yaya” Toure (’04) is listed and played exclusively with the U-19’s so far this season. Tulgar should have a strong season and is the most ready to make the jump to the U-19’s. Last season he battled an injury. Now that he is fully healthy, I expect him to produce.
Tulgar is quick and has good size, which allows him to ride challenges well. He also has the ability to work in tight spaces and beat defenders off the dribble. His finishing has to improve, but I believe that will come with time on the field. His goal against Bethesda is a good example of the type of player he is.
Roald Mitchell and Serge Ngoma do not lack talent either. Mitchell scored 12 goals last year and will look to improve on that total. He is also very athletic and has good size for his age. He needs to improve his strength with his back to goal. At times he gives the ball away to easily at times.
Serge Ngoma scored 12 times in 20 starts for the U-15’s last year, and gets the chance to play up two age groups this year. Playing against bigger, stronger, and faster players will help him develop other parts of his game. At times last year, he could easily beat players by being a better athlete. This season will be a great chance for him to gain a better understanding of the game, and focus in on the details of his position.
Even with multiple players spending time with the U-19’s, this team should be in position to make the playoffs. They have to improve from the game I saw, but as they adjust to the new formation and new teammates they should improve.
I expect they will be at their best during GA Cup and would like to see them qualify for the top division. For GA cup, those playing up with the U-19’s will move down and add more talent to the group. I will be watching to see how potential new players, not yet listed, integrate into the squad and potentially boost it. I will also be watching if McCafferty adjusts the roster in any way during the winter.
The U-19’s deviate from the U-15’s and U-17’s and play a 433/4231. I suspect this could be because the U-19’s are closest to NYRBII. Playing a similar formation with similar positions is more important. This team is primarily 2002’s who played with the U-17’s last year. Included on this team is John Tolkin.
Tolkin garnered a ton of interest among RBNY fans for his play with NYRBII, and while listed with the U-19’s, I expect his involvement to be limited. Tolkin will spend a majority of his time training with the first and second teams while playing for NYRBII. The good news is, despite a trip to Leipzig he is still very involved here in New York.
The Goalie positions sees two newcomers; Daniel DiMarco and Owen Kulick. They join Alex Bobocea, who was on the U-17’s last year. DiMarco played high school soccer last year and has started two of the three games played, while Bobocea started the other. Kulick joins from Cedar Stars Academy and is a Villanova commit.
The U-19’s backline will be led by Bryce Lebel and Conner Maurer. Both guys have a ton of experience in the Red Bull system, with Maurer consistently playing up with the U-19’s last year, and Lebel getting USL minutes.
At outside back Amir Daley, a Duke commit, and a combination of Justin Aguirre and Jack Borden will man the right and left flanks respectively. It is also likely that Lebel will see time at left back, and Joey Zalinksy will play CB. Zalinsky has also played right back and could see time there as well. Alex Bahr is the real newcomer on the backline joining from Concord Fire and having spent time at Atlanta United.
The big question mark for the defense is if the second line can step up and provide cover if guys like Maurer or Lebel join Tolkin with NYRBII. The other area I will be watching is if Amir Daley can put it all together. He is similar stylistically to Kyle Duncan and looks to be filling in to his body. If he can put his technical skills together, with stronger tackling and defensive awareness, he could be in for a big senior season.
In midfield, Sal Esposito is the lone returning player from last year’s U-19 team. Esposito will start at the 10, or as an 8 for this team, and will be joined in midfield by one of Diogo Rebelo or William Cardona. Matthew Acosta will start at the 6. Acosta is the glue to the midfield, and has started and played 90 minutes in every game. Acosta puts in a shift every game, and despite being a smaller guy, is not afraid to get stuck in.
He may not be someone you see at NYRBII, but he will be important piece for the U-19’s this year. Cardona is more of a shuttler, while Rebelo is skillful 10 who will also see time on the wings. Rebelo has two goals this season.
I expect to see a lot of rotation among the front three. In this group, the name that stands out is Dantouma Toure, who is playing up two years. He already has two goals and an assist on the year while deployed as a right winger. He is an exciting prospect, but still incredibly raw, and missed a whole year due to a knee injury. I am excited to see how he progresses on the wing.
In the middle, time will be split between Emiland Elezaj, who joined late last year, Nico Rosamilia, and Daniel Russo, a Notre Dame commit, who can also play in the midfield or on the wing. Russo played High School soccer prior to joining the Red Bulls. On the left, Andrew Maia will see time along with Rebelo, Russo, and even Rosamilia. Maia is a skilled player but still struggles to apply his skill and trickery at the right time.
I don’t expect this team to have one guy carry the scoring load. It will be balanced and spread among many. However, it has enough firepower across the front 3 to put up big scores and win games, even if the defense is not having the best day.
This could be a tough year for the U-19’s. They have talent, however, it is a matter of putting it all together. With a new format, playoffs will be harder to make, so dropping games to teams like Bethesda is not what you would like to see.
Outside of Tolkin, the team doesn’t have surefire, ready-now, homegrown talent. This could change as homestay program gets up and running, or if players take a big step over the course of the year.
My expectation is that this team will produce many solid College players, who in a few years could be ready to make the jump to NYRBII, or the first team, with the potential of a few players improving and earning a NYRBII contract similar to Omar Sowe.
Photo by Bill Twomey Photography