Red Bull Academy Notebook: Playing time key in building Academy roster

Due to COVID-19, the Red Bulls Academy season came to an unfortunate end as the teams were hitting their strides. Both the U-17’s, and U-15’s, advanced in the Generation Adidas Cup, and the U-19’s had multiple players involved with the New York Red Bulls II.

For first year Red Bull Academy Director Sean McCafferty, things were moving in the right direction.

“Players walk out at Red Bull Arena, not teams”

The above quote is from the new Red Bull Academy director. McCafferty repeated this a few times now, and it’s the best way to sum up the goal of the academy under his leadership. For McCafferty, it is all about developing the top players. The first step in that process was addition by subtraction.

“We did a lot of addition by subtraction, to be honest throughout the year,” McCafferty said. “When I first came in, I thought that maybe the rosters were too big. Not enough talent, maybe too many players that were taking away minutes from the top players. So, we really helped these players find homes where they can play minutes, which is essential. Ultimately, it allowed our top players to play more and accelerate their development”

While it will vary, expect Academy rosters to be in the range of 18 players per age group. Last year the U-17’s started with close to 26 players on the roster, resulting in many not playing games. At this level, minutes will not be distributed equally. The top prospects will, and need, to play the most. This limits opportunity to those at the back of the roster to just training.

This led to Red Bull starting the process of releasing players this past winter. In that process, they made sure to work with the athletes to help place them with local clubs, building relationships that works both ways. It enables getting top players into the academy and helps facilitate game minutes for players struggling to get on the field.

“We have video calls with families we release and try to facilitate where they land. The loop is not closed until they sign with another club, we are not going to get them all right. We will have players we release right now we don’t think are right. There’s a million example of players who come back in, develop at different stages, but they need to play. It would be irresponsible of us to have players on our roster not playing.”

Heading into the 2020-2021 season, the expectation should be smaller rosters, and players getting the opportunity to play up age groups. One of the problems this past year, was larger rosters making it hard to move players up when it may have been appropriate. The goal is to be able to challenge players and push them forward. In a perfect world, the top U-19 players are on a trajectory similar to John Tolkin, who spent very little time with the academy this year. This allows players, at all levels, to move up and fill the gaps.

“Again, success for us is, the top 19’s,” said McCafferty. “[The Academy] should never see them, right? And they’re gone. The 17’s should play 19’s.”
Yaya Toure (Left) and Jake La Cava(center) both spent time with NYRBII at the start of the season.

Managing COVID-19

With COVID-19 putting everyone on lockdown, the academy has had to find alternative ways to keep players engaged and healthy. Like most clubs, they have been using Zoom for a host of activities: Workouts, positional focused meetings, and Q&A’s with former academy members like Tyler Adams and Sean Davis.

The goalies have been involved with the first team positional meetings, allowing u-12’s to chime in with their thoughts on questions directed at the likes of David Jensen, Ryan Meara, and Kendal McIntosh.

“A sign of how inclusive our team is,” said McCafferty. “You have first team guys, Ryan, David, and Kendal. Then you have our U-12 goalie piping up, giving his insights. It’s fantastic to see, and it’s the mentality we have to have.”

Homestay Update

The Red Bulls Academy launched the Homestay program at the beginning of the year, and its already paying dividends. It currently has 4 players involved. The program allows Red Bull to target top players nationally, as well as put players in the system in better situations to develop on and off the field.

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