September brings a lot of things. Back to school, the end of summer lattes with pumpkin spices and beer as far as the eye can see. However, for those of us looking to escape the bliss of fall in close soccer observation, this marks the start of the academic league season.
For Sean McCafferty, entering his third season as director of New York Red Bulls Academy, now is the perfect time to speak from his front row seat about a youth development overhaul taking place in New York City. As players such as Caden Clark and John Tolkin begin what McCafferty hopes will be the next and biggest wave of young talent polished by the club, the former Barcelona, Arizona coach has traced the development pipeline from top to bottom. of the club.
From Red Bulls II to the pre-academy, McCafferty, Ryan Brooks and the rest of the staff have made great strides even with a pandemic-sized hurdle to reshape and build the academy’s infrastructure in a bid to ” to be the best in the country and give the first team the same reputation for development held by sister clubs in Europe and Brazil. These advancements include changes in practice time, education partners, homestay programs and much more at many levels of the club, as we found out when we spoke to McCafferty. earlier this month.
Strategy change in USL
This season, McCafferty has played a larger role on the New York Red Bulls II pro-level reserve team from a strategic standpoint, overseeing the onboarding of a number of young academy players and graduates playing an important role in the team in the senior game of the USL Championship. Of course, this year’s results weren’t always good for this younger, slimmer Red Bulls II. It’s also clear that some things didn’t go exactly as planned with pandemic protocols restricting first-team movement and visa issues hampering drafted players who were expected to contribute. But with these issues there have been huge opportunities for young players and many have stepped up and positioned themselves for first team opportunities.
“I will say that maybe things didn’t go as planned but because of that some young players got exposure that they maybe wouldn’t have had before,” said McCafferty. “Again, for the most part we were extremely happy with their performance, but it’s still very young and they make some naive mistakes and concede goals where if you’re a little more balanced you probably don’t concede. not so much … corners of set pieces, you know. It’s things of that nature.
Balance is McCafferty’s key word – it goes for building alignment and it goes for goals. For Red Bulls II, the goal is not all or nothing development and it is not all or nothing to win. That’s the goal of New York Red Bull II currently and something they’ve found in a consistent playoff game.
“We don’t like the way things are going from a results standpoint, even though they’ve been in most games and played well, maybe unrewarded. It’s a great exhibition, it’s excellent for their development. But winning is also great for their development. So I’ll never say it’s just about winning developing doesn’t matter because it does.
“So, as we go into next year, we absolutely want to strike a better balance. We’re doing a lot of due diligence right now with the players that could potentially be from the draft, potentially players that we maybe even sign. as locals so we’re looking to be a little more balanced for next year and one of our KPIs will be making the playoffs, that simple. So not just using this year to get some of the youngsters, minutes, but who are the ones who can play next year, they’re going to help us, you know, win, as well as obviously developing pros for the first team.
Reorganization of the academy
One of the biggest changes for the academy is the withdrawal of the U-19 squad. This has been a trend in MLS academies and the Red Bulls were one of the last to continue fielding an U-19 squad. For the Red Bulls, they determined the value just wasn’t there, with the best players of that age already headed to the USL squad.
“We kept it probably longer than most clubs in MLS and we really wanted to see if the value was there and ultimately the analysis was that a lot of the top talent is in the second team anyway. So for us, we’d kind of like to focus our energy on that second team and then also on the 17s and make that as strong as possible for the U-15 and U-17 age groups.
Obviously, without a U-19 squad you run the risk of pushing back a late bloomer too soon, but McCafferty insisted the staff have a plan for it.
“There is always that risk but we have to do due diligence, we just have to make sure that there is a contingency plan and it could be to attend their next club training more, to watch a bit plus their games and you know, I think Red Bull two practices is still a place where we go, we are going to give the players more time. Right now, three major players can play in the 17 for the majority of the game, so you know that players like Nicolas Rabiu, Austin Brummet, JC Cortez can still play some games with 17 We will call this a safety blanket for some of the players you are maybe you are not sure.
The next big thing for the Red Bulls is expanding accommodation and education programs for players outside of the Tri State area, such as the Caden Clark prototype. The first comebacks from the host program were successful with players like Seattle-born Austin Brummett securing good minutes for Red Bulls II. However, for McCafferty to make the Red Bulls the best, residency is the next step. Not only does it serve players out of state, but allows for a higher level of care towards local players as well as young international players like Cristian Cásseres or Wikelman Carmona.
“(Red Bulls sport manager) Kevin Thelwell will always ask ‘what does a super look like? ‘ and for me based on my experiences it’s a residency program for those high school ages and maybe even you can get Red Bulls II involved to potentially even do that with some of the young players. So, you know, having the ability to immerse gamers in your surroundings and what you are looking for. Take more control over their diet, nutrition, some of the workouts, and the extra contact time you can get with them. And then obviously the academic side and you know that we can combine all of that together. I think you have something that could be really, really best in class in North America.