The New York Red Bulls are struggling, and the season is nearing an end, both literally and in terms of playoff contention. The 2021 roster, filled with players from abroad, has a higher salary than any since 2018.
While other contracts like Amro Tarek are being sold and players like Caden Clark are departing, a power vacuum is forming, and new talent from within now have a chance to dream.
This late in the season, raiding New York Red Bulls II, the USL Championship side, would historically produce players who are fighting for a playoff spot. However, in 2020 this is not the case. Head Coach John Wolyniec and his squad have struggled in the Atlantic Division and sit second to last, only in front of DC United reserve team Loudon United.
It might almost be a relief that after 2022 the team will be leaving the league in favor of the newly created MLS professional league that will likely be in the third division.
Despite the struggles, there are some players worth mentioning that could fit into the RBNY first team sooner rather than later.
In no particular order, let’s begin.
Daniel Edelman (Midfielder, Age 18)
After signing his first professional contract earlier this year, Daniel Edelman has become a consistent face on RBNY II’s starting XI. Despite still being a teenager, the Warren Township native has already transitioned from a natural defender into an elusive midfielder.
His time with RBNY II has shown him going against opposing teams on both ends of the field. Even considering poor results, Edelman has been improving both his passing and play-making around midfield. This season he has a 78% successful pass rating and has been involved in a fair amount of goal-scoring chances (22 “key passes” this season). His ability to go toe-to-toe against offenses that are out possessing his group might stem from his backline roots. He’s a leader on the team in both steals and fouls earned.
However, Edelman does struggle to recover once beaten. The 3-0 road loss to Miami last month is a good example. Players like Billy Forbes and the rest of the front line had little issue imposing their will. When second-half substitute Lamar Walker came on and scored with 15 minutes, it was clear he was getting outplayed.
Last year with the pandemic, the whole squad struggled, but Edelman eventually found a groove. In a Once A Metro article last year, he said that he enjoyed playing with the players his age.
“I like playing with the college draftees because they’re still sharing ideas with me in terms of mentality and IQ about the game,” he said. “I’ve gotten to know a bunch of the guys much better, and the chemistry within the team keeps getting better.”
He went on to say that the veterans like Chris Lema helped him and the others develop further. It might be worth exploring that future practices with the first team could be beneficial to his development. He might need to work with an experienced midfielder who knows how to work MLS systems.
Edelman, formerly of the acclaimed Players Development Academy (PDA), has made appearances with the US youth national team program (under-16 & under-17s). For now, he might still be with the team after it drops out of the USL Championship. Give him a few more years in Montclair, and Edelman could be a solid fit in Harrison.
Omar Sowe (Forward, Age 20)
The state of Red Bulls II over the past two seasons has not been great, to put it mildly. However, the shining exception has been forward Omar Sowe after joining the squad in late 2019. The native of Gambia, who spent most of his life growing up in the shadow of Red Bull Arena, has become the team’s leading attacker and most consistent player.
Growing up in Harrison, Sowe broke multiple high school records for the Harrison Crimson Tide. He finished his four years with a final total of 89 goals, 67 assists, and two selections to the NJSCAA All-State team (2017, 2018).
Sowe led the team in goals during 2020 with seven in 14 games. This year he’s on track to do that again, scoring six goals with the final stretch of the season still open for more.
He does have some competition, though, with Jake LaCava trailing just behind him with five.
”I picked up a lot of things in my second year,” Sowe said in a story for NJ.com. “As a player, you always want to make sure you’re getting better. I feel like from the beginning to the end, I’ve gained a lot as a player. Overall, I’m just better. So overall, it was a good year, even though it wasn’t the year I wanted. I made the most out of it.”
He’s fast, and he’s vital, to put it simply. Sowe can overpower defenders and make space for goal attempts. His passing game does need improvement, but he has an eye for play-making. That includes yelling out directions while not on the ball in a leader-like fashion.
Knowing all this, it might be easy to see why Sowe could be a good fit for the first team. He’s even trained with the MLS squad during the waning months of 2020. But looking at the young international local, there is the possibility he gets stuck when he isn’t the big fish in the small pond.
This season in the USL, half of six goals have come against the Charlotte Independence, while the other three have been against Atlantic Division teams that are currently not in playoff position. Last year all but one of his goals came against Philadelphia Union II, who is now awaiting the start of the MLS reserve league. While the team around him has also struggled, the true mark of a standout player would be, well, standing out more on a bad team.
At the bare minimum, fans should not expect Sowe to still be on the team once RBNY II leaves the second division in 2023. Knowing that Gerhard Struber works well with younger players, he could slot into a system as soon as late 2021, especially if plans to keep loaned players like Fábio fall through. Realistically his most viable route to the first team begins with the 2022 preseason and how many faces return for next year.
Jake LaCava (Forward, Age 20)
Jake LaCava looked to be on course for the fast track to MLS. However, playing in the USL Championship in 2021 has done its job and allowed him to slow down and grow. It’s not a detriment when the system is working as intended.
He joined the Red Bull Academy in 2019 following stints with the Barça Academy and LA Galaxy Academy. It only took one year before the forward signed a professional contract with RBNY II in July 2020. His first start came not long after the regular season resumed following the COVID stoppage. LaCava finished second in goals scored with five behind Sowe. Like Sowe, LaCava’s 2021 has been productive but with some interesting notes. He is second in goals scored again, with five behind Sowe. But those have come against stricter competition, such as The Miami FC and the Tampa Bay Rowdies. In the team’s 2-0 win over Hartford Athletic, Jake scored the opening goal and led the team with four shots on target.
His conversion rate is about 15% this season, and when looking at his shots on target, he scores nearly one in three attempts. His ability to find goals is not consistent, by he has shown he can get around top USL offenses. He and Sowe combined are a dual-threat, but it is interesting to consider separating them. He’s very likely to get some looks in 2023 after the Red Bulls leave the USL Championship.
Featured Image: New York Red Bulls