BALTIMORE – Moments before Thursday’s MLS Draft was set to kick off, a group of recent college players were paraded on stage for all to see. Like many in the room, the six prospects are preparing to embark on a professional career, but the group in question is set to begin the next stage of their soccer careers in a class all their own.
The six players on stage were Brandon Allen, Derrick Etienne, Chris Thorsheim, Mael Corboz, Scott Thomsen and Alex Muyl, each a member of the New York Red Bulls’ record-breaking Homegrown class. Unlike their peers, the six would not participate in draft day, but each was given a moment on the stage to symbolize their jump to MLS.
Several hours later, two more players were added to the Red Bulls youth movement: defenders Justin Bilyeu and Zach Carroll. Even with a busload of players set to join the Red Bulls roster, both head coach Jesse Marsch and Ali Curtis valued the opportunity to snag a pair of capable defenders to go with their attack-heavy Homegrown base.
“It does change for us a little bit,” Marsch said. “It doesn’t make it obsolete, because there’s still the ability to pick up a good player, but there’s less emphasis on figuring out exactly what the right fit is for a number of reasons. Certainly the fact that we have our Homegrowns coming through the system now, we think that they’re going to be big contributors.”
“I think the good thing is we signed a lot of our Homegrown players that would have otherwise probably have been, we believe, top draft picks,” added Curtis. “A lot of them are midfielders and forwards, so with that you look at an emphasis of potentially looking more at the backline.”
While the swarm of Red Bulls Homegrown signings and draft picks roamed the hall of Baltimore’s convention center, two more continue to further their game in Austria. Midfielder Tyler Adams and Sean Davis have recently been training with Red Bull Salzburg, and have quietly impressed according to Marsch.
Yet the focus of the Red Bulls Homegrown roster remains on Matt Miazga, whose future remains up in the air according to various reports. With one eye rumored to be fixed on Europe, Miazga remains a Red Bull player for the time being.
“Right now, Matt’s with our team,” Marsch said. “There have been some discussions about potential opportunities for Matt going forward, but I don’t think it’s anything close to concrete. As of right now, I’m counting on him being at Red Bull in 2016.”
While Miazga expected to be a mainstay in the center of the back line yet again, both Marsch and Curtis expect Bilyeu and Carroll to add depth and competition to the team’s defense.
Bilyeu, who has been likened to Tim Ream, could be a main fixture in 2016. A left-footed defender that can play centrally or as a fullback, Bilyeu can make an impact in a variety of ways. In the end, Marsch says Bilyeu was always the team’s top target, and getting him with the 18th pick proved a success in many ways.
With Bilyeu, Caroll and the Homegrown class of 2016 in tow, the Red Bulls are looking to continue their youth movement, one that could have a major impact on their roster in 2016 and beyond.
“You push to get value out of the draft,” Curtis said, “and have the conversations that you need to have in order to be able to select the best player available, and this year we went out hard, and at the end of the day, we feel really good about our pick.
“Our commitment to youth development will only get stronger, but I do think this was a unique year. Not many clubs will go out and sign that number of Homegrown players, and we won’t either every offseason. We’re still going to have the same approach in terms of really trying to embrace youth development and signing younger players from our academy and bringing them into our system. I have to be honest, this was a pretty big year in that regard.”