The New York Red Bulls Academy is quietly building a reputation as a strong source of talent for the U.S. Youth National Teams. During the last several years, the Red Bulls have become one of the most prolific Academy programs in sending players to the Youth National Team level.
While Juan Agudelo is the most famous alumnus – having become the first Development Academy player to play for the senior National Team – Red Bulls players populate the younger teams across the board. Just halfway through this calendar year alone, nearly 15 Red Bulls Academy players have received a call into training camps or tournaments at the Under-15 level up to the Under-18 Men’s National Team – including six players in the U-17 Residency Program in Bradenton, Fla.
“I don’t know if there’s any one way to really explain it,” Red Bulls U-15/16 Academy head coach Rob Elliott said. “There’s a good crop of kids coming up through the New York area. I think our staff has done a good job of scouting guys and we do a good job of training guys and pushing them along so they’re ready for those kinds of environments.”
The crop of emerging players for New York includes a group of four athletes that have spent the last two semesters in the U-17 Residency Program in Bradenton.
Wesley Wade, Christopher Lema and Kevin Politz (all 15-years-old) and goalkeeper Evan Louro, 16, have been a part of numerous international tournaments this year with the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team, and even helped break in BBVA Compass Stadium (the site of this year’s Development Academy championship finals) with the U-17s in May during a 3-0 win against the Houston Dynamo Academy.
“They’ve started player identification and teams at the younger age groups and have a very strong talent pool” said Tony Lepore, Director of Scouting for the U.S. Soccer Development Academy. “I think over the last few years we’ve seen an increasing number of their players come into our Youth National Teams and, of course, they had one of the first Academy graduates to play for our Men’s National Team in Juan Agudelo.”
“New York and New Jersey has long been one of the top areas for player development and has a strong history of producing national team players and that’s evident as the team is being rewarded for getting things right this year,” Lepore continued. “This appearance at Finals Week and head coach Rob Elliot being recognized with Coach of the Year honors for the East Conference is evidence of that.”
Red Bulls Academy products Steven Echevarria and goalkeeper Alek Gogic also spent time in Bradenton this year. During previous seasons, the Academy has seen players such as Connor Lade and Sacir Hot earn call-ups to the U-20 Men’s National Team. The benefits of the experience are obvious upon their return.
“You notice things in terms of maturity and how they carry themselves,” Elliott said of coaching players after their time spent with the Youth National Teams. “Their approach to things is a little more professional just from being in it every day and going on all sorts of trips.”
At a younger level, five Red Bulls Academy players were part of U-15 Boys’ National Team camps this year, including forward Malcolm Dixon who traveled with the team to tournaments in the Netherlands and Mexico in addition to playing 16 matches with the U-15/16 Red Bulls Academy team.
“It’s hard to adapt away from home, but once you adapt to the new environment it’s really competitive and you train every day playing with some of the best players in the nation, so it makes you better,” Politz said of his experience in the U-17 Residency Program.
While it may be difficult initially to do without several top players for an extended period of time throughout the Development Academy season because of national team duty, Elliott made the point that it’s more of a win-win situation.
“It just provides opportunities for other guys,” Elliott said. “It just gives other guys opportunities and they’ve taken advantage of it.”
One group is away training with the Youth National Teams, while back at the Academy another talented player benefits with more playing time.
“I think it says a lot (about the Academy),” Louro said of the Red Bulls’ ability to cope with missing a large number of players to national team duty. “A lot of good players come through the Academy. We’re always looking for new and better players, so it’s (operating) at the highest level.”
The Red Bulls Academy also provides an excellent example of the model of integration between the Development Academy and the Youth National Teams, successfully mixing players throughout the year in a bid to create a constant flow of talent from the Development Academy into the Youth National Teams and, eventually, the senior Men’s National Team.
“Success breeds interest,” Elliott said. “We’ve had success through all our age groups and we’re just trying to figure out ways to continue to push that along.”