HARRISON, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls' youth movement, first undertaken three years ago and kicked into full gear last offseason, might accelerate even further this winter. It continues apace even as the club wonder why another playoff appearance fell well short of MLS Cup.
The Red Bulls are one of the biggest proponents of youth in MLS, and their academy and the New York Red Bulls II USL team have both been a springboard for several current first-team players. And despite an early post-season exit for the first team, Homegrown Players like Tyler Adams, Sean Davis and Alex Muyl on the roster continue to grow. Their emerging prominence, as well as some older team members' potential career wind-down, mean that youth might feature even more prominently for New York in 2018.
“When I first came here, I challenged all the veteran players to understand that we were going to be all about developing younger players with the idea that eventually, if you do that, that it probably means that they’re going to take your job at some point – which is a harsh reality of how this business works,” said head coach Jesse Marsch on Wednesday.
“But the way that everybody has embraced being a part of this just amazes me," he continued. "Guys like Sacha Kljestan, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Luis Robles, Damien Perrinelle – the way that they’ve committed to their leadership and their selflessness. It’s a big part of what’s made us good. I can’t thank those guys enough.
“We still value all of them, in big ways. We’re evaluating what that means from everybody, moving forward. It certainly doesn’t mean that once you get old, that it’s time for you to go away. They still have so much to contribute and now we just have to do a good evaluating what the good options are moving forward.”
When Marsch was hired ahead of the 2015 season, he inherited a club that was in the process of ending an era of big names and big salaries at Red Bull Arena. Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, and Rafa Marquez were among the high-profile players who had dominated the Red Bulls’ locker room for years.
Now the club is one of the league’s leaders in playing their academy products. Last offseason, the Red Bulls sold Matt Miazga to Chelsea. As they head into this winter, transfer speculation is already circling about the 18-year-old Adams, who recently received his first US men's national team call-up for next week’s friendly at Portugal.
“I think that this has been unique [in] our league, what is happening here. Our investment in young players, the numbers for Homegrown Players this year are outrageous, the highest ever,” Marsch said. “When you see the other teams that play Homegrowns, they’re not as successful. I think not only do we have the Homegrown Players, we develop them, we challenge them to be a big part of what we do, we invest in them and they help us be successful.
“I think really it’s an incredible model of what this sport needs to be in this country. If we have more clubs that really, truly – all clubs say they believe in young players but not all them truly invest in them the right way – in the way that we do. It’s our philosophy, it’s what we believe in.”
That investment extends beyond a deep and talented academy system to USL, where New York Red Bulls II have made the playoffs in all three years of their existence and won the league in 2016. Adams, Davis, Muyl, and Derrick Etienne and Vincent Bezecourt all developed with RBNY II before making serious contributions with the first team.
And the team isn’t going anywhere, either. Red Bulls II have their own facility at Montclair State University and there are no plans to farm out the squad to a different area or dissolve it altogether.
“We are 100 percent committed to Red Bull II and we will be playing at Montclair State,” said club sporting director Denis Hamlett. “The important thing for us is that we do use Red Bull II as a developmental plan for players. To gain the experience, to understand the system – how to play.
“I think [head coach] John Wolyniec, [assistant coach] Ibra Sekagya and [goalkeeper coach] Vadim [Kirillov] have done an amazing job in terms of putting the players through the system so when they do come to the first team, it is an easier transition for them.”