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Cristian Casseres Jr and Caden Clark try to stop Columbus Crew midfielder Darlington Nagbe during a 2021 regular season match at Lower.com Field (Credit: The Columbus Dispatch)

It’s hard to not smile as a New York Red Bulls fan right now. It might be fleeting but a team on an undefeated streak is just better to watch. Likewise the players are also doing better and it’s showing.

In that vein of good news, two members of the squad were named to the 22 Under 22 list presented by BODYARMOR. Midfielders Caden Clark and Cristian Cásseres Jr. both made the list and deserve to be there.

Coming in at Number 8, Caden Clark’s entry isn’t shocking but it comes at an odd time. His fiery start to the season, scoring three goals in the first four games, died down quickly. His mid-season appendectomy not only kept him off the field for a month. That was around late June, the start of RBNY’s downward summer spiral. Even his return in late July didn’t bring anything. Whether it be the emergence of Patryk Klimala, Gerhard Struber being selective with the teen, or just a slow spell he hasn’t matched last season nor the starting pace of 2021.

It also doesn’t help knowing that Clark is gone after the final whistle blows this season. Technically he’s playing out 2021 with New York as a loan and will be departing for RB Leipzig and Germany at the end of the year.

On a similar note a player like Wikelman Carmona totally has the potential to be on this list in the future. The 18-year old is probably closer to the Top 30 mark but his creative play and innate understanding of the game gives him a high ceiling. But of course it comes with recent reports that he’s attracted potential interest from Europe.

But back to the matter at hand. Does Clark deserve to be on this list? Absolutely. He’s a transcendent talent with a lot of potential. Heck, some could argue he’s past the point of “potential” and is now just raw talent. He’s fast and makes plays with insane reflexes. Half of his goals have come on quick thinking rebounds and nearly all of them slam into the back of the net with such force it feels like someone in the South Ward is going to lose some teeth.

But the 8th place spot is making me feel some things. Take out the surgery plus his slow return and Clark could have been a Top 5 or higher. The first two spots were destined to be Ricardo Pepi and Daryl Dike but Clark has the ability to be up there.

But at the same time looking at how 2021 has treated him calling him #8 doesn’t feel right this season. Players like Jesús Ferreira (#9) have been way more impactful this year for their teams. So in the end Clark is in a weird spot. He has the talent to be a Top 5 but this year he’s played like he doesn’t belong in the Top 10. Him finishing in between is a mix of perfect and wrong.

Bringing up the rear of the list at Number #20 is Cristian Cásseres Jr. The 21 year old squeezed onto the list in his final year of eligibility surrounded by other “older” stars.

The MLS listing already kind of says it best; “Whether it’s as a harrier or orchestrator, Cásseres Jr. has the potential to overtake games and supply the occasional golazo.” He’s just been a dependable piece on the team. The understated part of his play comes out when the other team has the ball. His ability to break up plays and then immediately turn into an attacker has been vital. 

The transition between midfield and forward has been worrisome this year. Early on the forwards were struggling and the midfield had to pick up the pace. Now both groups are making strides but there hasn’t been a consistent piece to make plays there. Cásseres and Omir Fernandez have been the closest thing in 2021. Their combined seven goals show they can be offensive but it’s Cásseres who has two assists to his name.

Plus don’t forget, unlike Clark, he gets called up for national team play. Injuries recently kept him away from Venezuela’s national squad. However he just made his return earlier this week for the team’s World Cup qualifier win over Ecuador.

It’s been said how well Struber works with young talent. It was shown during his time in Austria, Germany, and England how well he can help mold players while they are on first teams. The late summer and early fall have seen that come out a little more but it isn’t perfect. Next season Clark will be gone and Cristian will be aged out of the Under 22 list. It’s hard to say which, if any, Red Bulls players will be on it in the future. It feels like the closest we’ll see is someone in the lower 20 area with the current squad.

That’s not a bad thing on it’s own. But it’s disappointing knowing the team might be without a transient young talent as Struber begins to fully develop.

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