Few organizations seem to hold the “Play your kids” motto to heart quite like the New York Red Bulls.
But this week’s highlight isn’t about the MLS team. Or even the New York Red Bulls II, one of the most interesting reserve teams in the USL.
Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup action saw the New York Red Bulls U23s – the team’s USL PDL side – take the field against FC Motown, a local NPSL outfit.
And while the Red Bulls U23s eventually lost by a 2-1 score, there is still plenty to dig into.
PDL sides mostly feature college players. But the early games in the U.S. Open Cup often leaves PDL or NPSL teams down on numbers, with some members of the roster still finishing up finals.
Of course, with the Red Bulls wealth of Academy talent, the team elected to feature four current U19 players in the starting lineup. David Philbin started in central defense, Jared Juleau at left back, Jonathan Filipe on the right wing and John Murphy in central midfield. In all the team had eight high schoolers on its 18-man roster on Wednesday night.
Facing a team that featured a trio of former MLS players, as Dilly Duka, Julius James and Hunter Freehman all started for FC Motown, the younger Red Bulls showed plenty of pluck. They took a first half lead thanks to a goal from Brian Saramago (a former academy player now part of Loyola (MD)). And while Duka’s brace consigned the side to eventual defeat, the exercise had value for both the high school seniors and the college players on the roster.
Rashid Nuhu (Fordham), Sean Teixeira (Villanova), Sylvain Coco, Emmanuel Kouma (Rider), Barry Sharifi (Loyola MD) and Omir Fernandez (Wake Forest) filled out the rest of the starting lineup. Marist standout Allen Gavilanes subbed on in the second half and was bright, though couldn’t get a goal back for the visitors.
Perhaps the most useful indication of the Red Bulls U23 is how many players end up moving on to either the USL side of the MLS team. The likes of Brian White, Jose Aguinaga and Christopher Lema were part of the PDL team last summer, and after their senior seasons in the fall, have signed with Red Bulls II for the current campaign.
And while one game is nothing to draw conclusions from, Saramago continues to leave an impression with his scoring rate, and Omir Fernandez is arguably the top talent on the roster and a candidate to sign a homegrown contract eventually.
Other college players in Open Cup action
The Red Bulls U23 were far from the only team in U.S. Open Cup action this week that featured college talent.
Michigan Bucks fell against Detroit City FC on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw. The prestigious PDL side handed start to DI standouts like Brad Dunwell (Wake Forest), Jimmy Hague, Giuseppe Barone (Michigan State), Marcello Borges (Michigan) and Jared Timmer (Butler).
Portland standout Rey Ortiz had a day against the Kitsap Pumas on Tuesday night. Lining up for the Portland Timbers U23s, he scored the game’s opener from a free kick (see below) and then had a couple of crosses turned into the net. Playing up a man for the bulk of the game, Portland U23s put Kitsap to the swords. Ortiz’s teammates, Benji Michel, Malcolm Dixon and Gio Magana Rivera also featured, while incoming Portland transfer Francesco Tiozzo started.
Dominant. 💪— USL PDL (@USLPDL) May 9, 2018
The @TimbersU23 move on to the Second Round of the @opencup to play the @USL's @Reno1868FC! Here's a look at all five goals from Tuesday's match!#Path2Pro | #USOC2018 pic.twitter.com/9lm9GnClfq
They aren’t the only college players that will move on to the next round. Reading United managed to eke out a penalty kick victory against last year’s Cinderella, Christos FC. Kamal Miller (Syracuse), Lamine Conte (Lousiville) and Aaron Molloy (Penn State) were amongst the DI players to get the nod.
Teenagers continue to get USL minutes
While mid-week U.S. Open Cup action dominated, USL games also took place.
A pair of youngsters squared off when Swope Park Rangers traveled to face Real Monarchs SLC. Richie Ledezma, a U19 standout for the RSL Academy, started and played 62 minutes on the flank. His involvement was minimal, completing eight of 11 passes. His passing chart reflects that below.
Busio, competing in central midfield, misplaced just a single pass, handling corner kick duties, also playing 62 minutes. He was a bit more involved than Ledezma.
And even if Efra Alvarez is unlikely to play for a U.S. national team down the road, he deserves special mention for scoring a hat trick on Wednesday. His talented LA Galaxy II teammates, Alex Mendez and Uly Llanez were called up to the U.S. U20 MNT for a camp in Florida and Honduras over the next 10 days.
While his finish on the second goal was superb, his first on the night might’ve been my favorite, as it featured a nice defense-splitting run.
Alvarez wasn’t the only hat-trick hero of the night, as Ethan Zubak scored three of his own in a 6-3 win.