In the run up to the holidays, the New York Red Bulls announced the signing of six players from the college ranks to homegrown contracts.
It was an unprecedented swoop from the MLS franchise that arguably has the best player pool in the Division I ranks. Brandon Allen, Scott Thomsen, Alex Muyl, Mael Corboz, Chris Thorsheim and Derrick Etienne were all added to the team’s roster for 2016.
The youngest player added – Virginia midfielder Etienne – could end up being the best of the bunch when all is said and done. That’s not a slight at his new teammates, but rather a testament to the potential he’s shown over the past year.
After spending just one college season in Charlottesville, Etienne decide the time was right to realize his pro soccer dream after almost seven years in the club’s system. Joining what is basically his boyhood club added something a little extra to the occasion.
“I’ve been here since I was 12 years old, I’m 19 years old now, signing a contract, just knowing that all those years have added up and for me to sign a contract it makes the feeling that much sweeter,” Etienne said about joining his local club.
The New Jersey native has enjoyed a prodigious rise in 2015. After spending a week training in the preseason with the first team, he made several appearances for New York’s new USL team in the spring and summer, played for Haiti in U20 World Cup qualifying and garnered All Freshman honors at Virginia.
“I felt that 2015 was probably my biggest year of my soccer career,” he said. “Playing at all those high levels just showed me that I was able to play at that level…I always felt I had the technical ability, but to be able to show that and then growing and maturing in my body I felt that 2015 showcased what I could do.”
A technical midfielder who excels in possession, Etienne is versatile enough to line up in a number of spots in Jesse Marsch’s 4-2-3-1 system. In both USL and at the college level, he’s demonstrated the ability to score highlight reel goals. His eagerness to run at opposing defenders with the ball at his feet is a skill that could help set him apart at the next level.
Now that the New Year is here, the path for 2016 is set, with instructions from Marsch and the coaching staff to keep in mind as he looks for bigger and better things going forward.
“They just told me to focus on preseason, go out there and do my best,” Etienne said. “Hopefully I can make an impact or a statement enough to get into the top half of the first team. Or if they feel that I’m not ready, it’s still a great experience to be with the first team and play games with Red Bulls II.”
His preparation for a first pro preseason centers on maintaining his fitness, as he sees that as a key to playing time this season.
“With the high pressing system that Red Bull has, it’s a lot of ground to cover, I feel that if I’m able to compete physically with everyone, I feel that my technical ability will put me on another level,” he said.
Etienne, who is now represented by Kevin Weinress of First Wave Sports, also has international ambitions. He competed in U20 World Cup qualifying with Haiti last year, and earned a look for Haiti’s U23s, though he missed the final roster for Olympic qualifiers. While his focus is on the Red Bulls and his first pro season, international dreams are on Etienne’s mind.
“Right now I’m just waiting to see what my options are,” he said. “If the U.S. calls, if Haiti calls, I’ll talk it out with my family and see what my best option is.”