Last year, New York Red Bull Head Coach Mike Petke brought in a series of journeymen and castaways, searching for last minute reinforcements for the coming campaign.
This year, there is also a large contingency of trialists hoping to make a name for themselves, but the majority are rooted in the Academy system.
Leading the way are two Red Bull Academy standouts — midfielders Arun Basuljevic and Christopher Lema. Basuljevic, 17, is an All-American, Mahopac native and a key cog in the Academy system. Ridgewood’s Lema, 17, is the highest rated youth midfielder in the Academy system. Like Basuljevic, Lema will continue his career in Georgetown next year.
Meanwhile, both have left a mighty strong impression with Petke in their first week of training.
“The speed of play sometimes with players like that catches up to you quick and that happened a couple of times,” Petke says, “but overall, specifically those two, you can tell they know the game. You can tell they benefited from the Academy and they have a bright future — hopefully, with us.”
Neither player featured for New York in their 2-0 loss to the University of South Florida, but that was not the intention of their inclusion. As Sporting Director Andy Roxburgh said in December, the Red Bulls want to create an understanding of what the organization expects from their players, from youth to senior levels. Those experiences can help shape the club for years to come, particularly when giving academy products the unique opportunity to train with the senior team.
“It’s one thing to have them in the odd practice throughout the year,” Petke explains. “To throw them into a full preseason with the entire team with every aspect of it, to see them adapt to it, and be able to, in many times, adapt to the speed of play and raise their game to match the players around them, it’s great to see.”
Two players that will get an extended look are draft picks Chris Duvall and Eric Stevenson. Both featured in the teams lone offseason scrimmage. Akron’s Stevenson, who did not feature during the MLS Combine, has particularly caught the attention of the second-year coach.
“[Stevenson] definitely has a great eye for the game and a great soccer brain,” Petke says.
The second phase of preseason starts this week, with the team heading to Jacksonville for a friendly against rival Philadelphia before beginning their participation in the Disney Classic. There, the team will continue their evaluations. Trialist Miguel Ibarra was the first cut of the offseason while defender Tyler Polak has earned a deeper look.
“Everybody did well in their own right but tough decisions need to be made and they will be made within the next week or so,” Petke said.