SARASOTA, Fla. – Ian Christianson may be impressing the New York Red Bulls three weeks into their preseason, but his status as an unsigned rookie still remains.
Despite having shone with a goalscoring performance in the Red Bulls’ recent exhibition win over the Columbus Crew, Christianson still has not signed a contract with the club that drafted him with the 22nd overall pick in last month’s MLS SuperDraft.
However, the 21-year-old midfielder seems likely to sign with the Red Bulls considering the space freed up under the salary cap with the departure of Kenny Cooper, their overall dearth of options in midfield and Christianson’s impressive maturity.
“It’s good to see immediately when you talk to him in the morning practice about whatever, getting your head up, turning, playing quicker, and this afternoon you see bits and pieces of that,” Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s not like we’re going to tell him in the morning you have to play quicker and turn quicker and he’s going to become exactly that. It’s impossible.
“But to see immediately little bits and pieces of him trying and changing, that’s very reassuring.”
A 5-foot-11, 155-pound midfielder who served as a vital cog for College Cup finalists Georgetown last season, Christianson is currently trying to adjust to learning curve that comes with making the jump from the college game to the pros. But he is also trying to improve another element of his game that Petke believed was lacking in last month's MLS Player Combine.
Petke told reporters shortly after drafting Christianson that the midfielder did not show as much bite as he would have liked during the three-day Combine, and Christianson is heeding his coach’s advice.
“It’s definitely something that’s in the back of my mind, something I’m working on: playing big, playing strong and kind of having that edge,” Christianson told MLSsoccer.com. “I just hope to continue to develop my own edge, every player has one, and getting myself established and keep rolling.”
While Christianson is being touted as defensive midfielder Dax McCarty’s backup for the upcoming campaign, the youngster admits that he tries to emulate a different kind of MLS player when out on the field: Sporting KC midfielder Graham Zusi.
“He plays a little more forward but I like to mix it up between smaller passes and bigger passes,” said Christianson. “I like to switch the ball to the weak side. I’m pretty quick and I’m not afraid to get stuck in either. I really just kind of like to dictate the tempo through my passes.”
Christianson’s game might need some more polishing before he gets mentioned in the same breath as someone like Zusi. But he is hopeful that with time he will be able to hone his game and transform into the type of player the Red Bulls are counting on him to become, just as he developed during his time at Georgetown.
“Just those four years were just a big work in progress in terms of improving as a team and growing as a player,” said Christianson. “Looking back at , it would’ve been great to win the national championship game, but I’m here now and hopefully there’ll be bigger and better things some time in the future.”
One of those things is convincing the Red Bulls that he is worthy of a giving a contract offer to.
“The mentality is to prove myself and keep improving,” said Christianson when asked about his short-term goals. “I’m going to give my best efforts and show what I have and take the opportunity.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.