The New York Red Bulls plan to continue to rely on young players in 2021, but not just any youngster can make it in Gerhard Struber’s new side.
Post-season roster decisions saw options for former prospects Ben Mines and Chris Lema declined. Patrick Seagrist, the team’s 2020 first-round SuperDraft pick, will also not be returning.
“It would have been very easy to re-sign Chris Lema and very easy to re-sign Ben Mines, and actually that would protect us and support us to a point, but if we didn’t feel that they were going to get the appropriate number of MLS minutes.” Head of Sport Kevin Thelwell said. “Then what benefit would those young players get? And would that actually aid and support their development?”
These cuts show the bar the Red Bulls have for their prospects and timeline allowed to break into the first team. They are sticking with Jared Stroud, who signed a first-team contract at the same time as Lema. Stroud showed glimpses of quality in just under 1,000 minutes, contributing two assists and looking to fit well in the team’s style of play.
“It’s not a dirty word that we want to develop our own young players,” Thelwell said. “We want to give them good opportunities to be able to prove that they’re capable and also help us to win things.”
Mines broke onto the scene with his goal-scoring debut as a 17year-old in 2018. He’d spend the rest of that season and 2019 with NYRB II, eventually given limited first-team time again in 2020.
Lema joined the first team after two impressive seasons with NYRB II. The midfielder didn’t appear for the Red Bulls in 2020, rather making 11 more appearances in the USL Championship.
“I’ll be the very first to say if those guys go on and be successful in MLS, how pleased I will be for it,” Thelwell said. “We’ve played a part and we continue to play a part by the decision that we’ve made, I’m certain to that.”
The team faced a similar situation this time last year when they released Derrick Etienne Jr, a player who had spent his entire playing career with the club. The 24 year-old won a starting job for the Columbus Crew in 2020 and recently assisted the goal that eliminated the Red Bulls from the playoffs.