New York Red Bulls II recently announced that the club would exercise options to retain five players for the 2016 USL season. Included in that announcement was a list of nine players whose options would not be picked up by the club. Some of the names included in the second list left Scratching the Pitch scratching its head.
Several of the players now without a contract featured prominently and made significant contributions for a Red Bulls II side that surged to a fourth place finish in the USL Eastern Conference. Forward Chris Tsonis tallied 5 goals and 3 assists in the regular season, placing him second on the Baby Bulls in both categories. Defender Michael Da Fonte logged 2003 minutes in 25 appearances, outpacing the rest of the roster by a considerable margin. Daniel Bedoya knocked in three goals and added 4 assists, leading the team in the latter category. Five of the nine players were named to a USL Team of the Week at some point in the season.
Clearly, some of these players have shown the ability to be effective in the USL. Perhaps, though, it is more important to the Red Bulls organization to stock its reserve team with players that can someday develop into effective MLS players. Maybe these nine players did not fit into future plans for the first team.
To test the hypothesis, StP asked Red Bulls two questions: (1) Who makes decisions regarding roster moves for New York Red Bulls II? (2) Are Red Bulls II roster decisions made based on the players’ potential abilities to eventually help the MLS team, or are some considerations given to the players’ capacity to succeed at the USL level and help New York Red Bulls II win matches?
The response from the team was surprisingly coy. “I appreciate you reaching out, however, these are all organizational decisions made by the technical staff,” stated Christopher Orihuela, Communications Assistant for New York Red Bulls.
A more comprehensive answer may have provided the basis for a case study in the contrast of how MLS ownership groups and “independent” ownership groups approach constructing a USL roster. Alas, we are left to speculate.
It is reasonable to conclude that MLS-2 rosters in the USL are not built for the purpose of winning matches or titles. The priority is rightly given to development of players for the first team. Whether or not this approach is good for the lower-division league in the long term (as the number of MLS-2 teams increases) is debatable.
None of this is meant to be interpreted as an assertion that MLS-2 teams lack the talent or desire to win in the USL. The proof of the opposite was displayed in the agony on the faces and strain in the voices of LA Galaxy II players and coaches after falling just short in the 2015 USL Championship.
Regardless of the reasoning, there are now some talented players with professional experience on the market. If some of these guys do not reappear in a Red Bulls II kit in 2016, which is still possible, it would not be the least bit shocking to see them in the colors of other USL teams.