Trading away captain Dax McCarty last winter was a risk that paid off for the New York Red Bulls. Though met with criticism, it resulted in a spot on the field for Tyler Adams, who shined brightly in midfield and as a wingback.
Having, as sporting director Denis Hamlett puts it, “confidence in terms of getting the right balance” on the team after last year’s trade, the Red Bulls did it again, sending captain Sacha Kljestan to Orlando City.
“You’re going to have to give up something big to get something back,” Hamlett said.
For the Red Bulls, that does not mean just the $400,000 in allocation money they received from the Fire last year, but the chance to give young players a chance to develop. That is why, when offers came for Kljestan after MLS Cup, the club entertained them. Eventually, the 32-year-old would be exchanged for 23-year-old Carlos Rivas and 20-year-old Tommy Redding.
The trade is only a continuation of the Red Bulls’ philosophy since Jesse Marsch took charge in 2015, as they play a pressing game with a team that continues to get younger in each offseason.
“Our philosophy in terms of our style of play and knowing that… we play 34 games plus playoffs and Open Cup, it requires that you have young players that can sustain the demands of our style of play,” Hamlett said.
In that case, finding a balance in the squad means picking up players that are on the younger side for the Red Bulls.
In addition to Rivas and Redding, the Red Bulls have added players New York Red Bulls II, Stefano Bonomo and Florian Valot, as well as Homegrown player Kevin Politz. All five are under the age of 25, leaving the current Red Bulls squad with only three players over the age of 30 in goalkeeper Luis Robles, defender Aurelien Collin, and forward Bradley Wright-Phillips.
The players they recruit have to meet the demands of the system, which might be an easier task for the likes of Bonomo, Valot, and Politz, all members of the Red Bulls’ development structure. Implementing a similar style at youth levels and with the USL team has been an area of focus for the team in recent years.
“It’s important that the guys understand how to play in that system,” he said, “and I think that starts with our Red Bulls II players.”
However, he recognizes the challenge that comes for Redding and Rivas, who have existed outside of the Red Bull soccer universe until now. Still, he feels that Redding and Rivas have the potential to meet the demands of his new coaches.
“Once he’s with us and understands how we play, the demands that come with it, I think he’s going to be a perfect fit,” Hamlett said about Rivas.
“Our system is based off of having center backs who are very good in 1 v 1 situations … [who] can recover [and] can break up plays,” the sporting director added on Redding.
Like last year, the Red Bulls open the new year with a risky move by handing minutes to unproven talent. Again, only time will tell whether or not the risk pays off, but they will not back down from their commitment to being a younger team.
“Our way is not going to change,” Hamlett said. “This is who we are.”