With the group stage of the Desert Diamond Cup complete, and start of the regular season less than 10 days away, coaches from all four teams in Tucson provided an update on their younger players’ transition to the professional level.
Caldwell – A Homegrown signing following his decorated college career at Akron, Caldwell (above) has shown impressive poise and technique as a central midfielder. It remains to be seen if he can continue to move the ball quickly and defend adequately in more congested MLS midfields.
Revs head coach Jay Heaps: “Coming into the season, Scotty has trained with us before, so I had a good idea about him. But his development over his senior season has been tremendous. I think he’s going to be fighting for minutes right away.”
Smith – One of the stars of Charlotte’s 2011 run to the NCAA College Cup final, Smith is a left winger with good speed quickness over short distances. He tends to loft his crosses and free kicks rather than drive them, but his delivery set up several set-piece chances against Seattle and Jerry Bengtson’s go-ahead goal against New York.
Heaps: “Donnie has a unique talent in his pace and ability to get down the left side. He’s got a great left foot and fits well with the group. Every day, when we discuss what we saw in training, his name always comes up. He continues to be positive, and he’s pushing very hard for a contract.”
Soffner – A hero of Indiana’s NCAA championship run last fall, Soffner appears to have beaten out Tim Murray for the Revolution’s third goalkeeper slot. He got important minutes in a closed-door scrimmage against USL PRO team Phoenix FC on Monday, a 4-1 New England win.
Heaps: “He is pushing for that last spot. We’re going to carry three goalkeepers, and I think Monday’s game was really good for him. All three goalkeepers are pushing each other, Luis for the third spot and Matt [Reis] and Bobby [Shuttleworth] for the starting spot, so that’s really good to have.”
Latigue – Taken in the fourth round of the supplemental draft, Latigue has outlasted three players selected ahead of him and remains in contention for a roster spot. He has shown good ability with both feet and a good work rate on either wing, assisting on A.J. Soares’ header Wednesday after scoring one goal and setting up another against Phoenix.
Heaps: “Some guys shine and drop and then shine and drop again, but I think Gabe has been consistent, like Donnie – the two of them have been very consistent in their performance. The next two games will be important for Gabe in getting minutes and taking his opportunities. … We want to see consistency. Gabe didn’t play in the game on Saturday, but how is he going to react when he gets his opportunity on Wednesday? That’s what we’re looking for in the younger guys: when they get the opportunity, not to try to do too much, but to do what they do and do it well.”
NEW YORK RED BULLS
HGP FW Amando Moreno (signed)
HGP GK Santiago Castaño (signed)
Rd. 2 pick MF Ian Christianson
Supp Rd. 1 pick DF Ryan Clark
Supp Rd. 1 pick MF Michael Bustamante
Supp Rd. 4 pick DF/MF Andrew Ribeiro
Moreno – A Homegrown signing from Marlboro, N.J., the 5-foot-7 Moreno has seen regular minutes this preseason and is a hard-working terrier of a forward, chasing anything and everything in the attacking half. Although he will not turn 18 until September, he could find a role as a sparkplug off the bench at times.
New York head coach Mike Petke: “I told Moreno after the first two games, ‘You’re making it very difficult for me to bring you along slowly.’ That’s a good problem for a coach to have. He’s tenacious, all over the place, and the kind of player I would hate to play against, because he’s always there, with the ball and without the ball. We do want him to work on bottling up his energy at times, because it’s impossible to run sideline to sideline for 90 minutes.”
Meet Santiago Castano
Castaño – Another 17-year-old home-grown signing, Castaño – from Ocean City, N.J. – was thrown into the fire with a start against Real Salt Lake on Feb. 13 when starter Luis Robles was out with a sore back. He allowed two goals in the first three minutes and struggled with his positioning on occasion, but kept his cool after the early strikes. New York will not want to see him forced into an MLS game this year, but he will be groomed for the future.
Petke: “Santiago had a tough first few minutes against Real Salt Lake, but they weren’t his fault. He’s a big, strong kid who’s young and energetic. He’s a very good shot-stopper and is improving with his feet. Crosses are a bit of a question mark right now for him, but overall, in talking with the goalkeeper coach and watching him, he’s making improvements every day.”
Christianson – Currently battling a hip injury, the club’s only SuperDraft pick has not seen any action in Tucson, but his efforts earlier in the preseason were well-received by the coaching staff, and midfielder Dax McCarty highlighted Christianson as a player who could make a successful transition to the professional game.
Petke: “He’s showed we made a very good choice in him. He had some very good moments in Florida against Columbus and Malmo. … He’s adapting very well to playing that holding midfielder role. He’s somebody who has shown characteristics that he could be somebody for the future for us. The speed of play, positioning-wise, is a big jump from college. He needs to work on getting into better positions and getting the ball off his foot quickly.”
Clark – The club’s first supplemental draft pick out of Monmouth, Clark has seen limited action in the preseason and appears a long shot to make this year’s roster, but he is still in camp with the Red Bulls.
Petke: “Ryan is a hard-worker, which is very appreciated. He’s shown some improvement. We have not made a decision yet, but we hope he keeps improving.”
Bustamante – After an impressive MLS Combine mostly spent playing out of position, Bustamante has been steady as a central midfielder in Tucson. His best moment came on a powerful volley to tie the tournament opener, while he continues to work on making an impact with his passing.
Petke: “He’s adapting to the game very quickly. He’s very useful in both offensive midfield and as a holding midfielder. He reads the game very well and seems to have a very good soccer brain. Similar to Ian, there have been moments where he’s held the ball for extra touches, which gives the defense a chance to adjust. But he’s very tidy with the ball and very creative, and he puts himself in great positions defensively.”
Ribeiro – Taken late in the supplemental draft out of Creighton, Ribeiro has seen time in several different spots in preseason, including as a holding midfielder. That versatility may be his best chance to earn a roster spot or remain in the team’s plans.
Petke: “Andrew is a very interesting player. He’s very calm on the field and on the ball. He’s serviceable in a number of positions. We’re looking to see if he makes that adjustment as quickly as some of the others, but he has not been out of place in this camp at all.”