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2021 New York Red Bulls draft pick Matt Nocita
Center-back Matt Nocita was drafted Seventh Overall by the New York Red Bulls in the 2022 MLS SuperDraft (Credit: Navy Athletics)

Tuesday afternoon’s MLS SuperDraft was interesting to watch. No matter what type of New York Red Bull fan you are, the club did something interesting. Jumping into the top ten, not passing on any picks, and picking up players at each position all mean something.

It is no secret that the draft system in MLS isn’t the best. Many high caliber domestic players are already in academies and forgo playing in college. However, since 2020 the team has shown it wants to use the draft. Players like Patrick Seagrist and AJ Marcucci have either played for the first team or signed first team contracts. Others still have been regulars for the reserve team in the USL Championship.

With that being said, it isn’t fair to say that the New York Red Bulls had a poor MLS SuperDraft. Yet coming out of this week’s event the league itself ranked the team as one of the lower scoring units with a C+ grade. While the criticism is somewhat valid considering a Top 10 pick being a member of the military academy, it comes off as odd considering what New York needed following this year.

The Red Bulls paid $100,000 to both CF Montreal and the Chicago Fire FC to move up eight spaces to the number seven spot. That sort of jump is never going to come without a cost, no matter what major sport it is. However, RBNY were smart in using the league’s own fake money for the transactions.

Both Chicago and Montreal received general allocation money (GAM) for their parts of the deal. As a quick aside, GAM is funds teams can use that does not count toward the salary cap. With how New York’s roster is currently laid out the cap isn’t a concern. The abundance of loan players last year means there is plenty of space left for new talent.

What’s more is that last season showed just how much New York needs in-house defenders. Following Aaron Long’s injury, the team was without a natural center-back for a majority of the season. Players were forced to try and adapt to a position they weren’t used to. Tom Edwards, Amro Tarek, and Sean Nealis were all stretched thin trying to make up for the loss. Edwards especially was stuck in center while not having the height to properly play the role.

Enter the Red Bulls first pick, the seventh overall, Matthew Nocita. The 6’8’’ central defender out of the United States Naval Academy is accolade heavy. The Los Angeles native won Defensive Player of the Year honors from the Patriot League (2019, 2020-21) and the Eastern College Athletic Conference (2021) the past three seasons. Last month he Nocita was named First-Team Academic All-American by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) as well, putting brains along with athletics. He is also coming onto a squad in need of a big man.

The one grey area comes with his service requirements that are placed upon anyone who attends a military academy. These can be waived or deferred and there are numerous examples of this. In the 2020 NFL Draft the Miami Dolphins selected Navy wide receiver Malcolm Perry. He deferred his military service to a later date as he currently competes for various teams in the league. Time will only tell how this will all work out but Nocita’s reaction to being picked and the team’s trust to move up for him gives some assurances.

The only player with any previous “professional” experience that RBNY picked up was midfielder Seth Kuhn. The Third Round pick (73rd overall) has his roots deep in Eastern Pennsylvania. As a product of the Philadelphia Union academy, Kuhn’s lone professional cap came with Bethlehem Steel FC (now Philadelphia Union II) in 2017. The teenager also spent summers playing for well-known amateur side Reading United AC in both 2019 and 2021.

The former Penn State Nittany Lion also made the SportsCenter Top 10 last year with his alma mater with an incredible curved shot goal. A new midfielder to tinker with in the final season playing in USL will be interesting.

The other two picks New York made are harder to really think much about (for now). Forward O’Vonte Mullings and goalkeeper Giannis Nikopolidis are both interesting picks. Nikopolidis might be able to train with RBNY II with the departure of Luca Lewis. He and Marcucci will be battling for playing time on the reserves now that Carlos Cornel is locked as first team starter. Of note, he is also the son of Greek National Team player Antonios Nikopolidis.

As for Mullings, the Canadian native recently spent time with USL2 side Seattle Sounders FC U-23, who won their division in 2021 and should be heading for a U.S. Open Cup berth this year. He has quick feet and a high work rate according to draft analysts. But scoring against professionals is always a major step away from the amateur circuit.

Like previously mentioned, this draft had a little bit of everything for the Red Bulls. All pieces around the pitch that can develop with time. With the reserve team going through its own transition and looking for a new head coach, these players could shape that team as much as the organization shapes them.

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