The New York Red Bulls have announced the signings of NYRB II players Jared Stroud and Chris Lema to MLS contracts. With veteran players gone, the kids are running the show in 2020 once again.
Following a relatively subpar 2019 season, the New York Red Bulls have made it clear that they intend to continue to rely on NYRB II talent that are ready to make the jump to Major League Soccer. This time, it is the turn of Jared Stroud and Chris Lema, who were signed to MLS contracts this week.
After both Stroud and Lema’s second seasons with NYRB II in the USL Championship, it became pretty clear that the pair of 23-year-olds were ready to test their abilities in Major League Soccer. Both midfielders were standouts in the team’s sixth-place finish in the USL Championship Eastern Conference and were rewarded with Team of the Year honors.
Stroud is the greater attacking threat. The Chester, New Jersey native lead NYRB II in both goals and assists, tallying 15 and nine respectively. On the pitch, Stroud was a clear leader in a rather inconsistent side, playing just under 3,000 minutes.
His role in his debut MLS is likely to be support to Kaku. The Paraguayan failed to live up to his 2018 campaign and competition for his spot can only be a positive. After all, Kaku was no stranger to the bench in 2019.
Lema, on the other hand, has a little more competition for playing time. Playing more centrally in midfield, he has a few players ahead of him in the pecking order. Sean Davis continued to be a regular in the New York Red Bulls midfield last season while Cristian Casseres Jr. broke into the lineup with 23 appearances in a slightly more holding position in the middle of the park.
Where Lema will bring immense value to the Red Bull roster is in a role once held by Vincent Bezecourt. The now former Red Bull made just eight first-team appearances last season, spending the majority of his time with the second team. Moving between the team’s two sides wouldn’t be a surprising reality for Lema in 2020 but at least he doesn’t occupy an international slot like Bezecourt.
And the youth revolution, one that the New York Red Bulls have committed to for several years, does not stop there. While the New York Red Bulls may appear to have holes in their starting eleven due to the departure of several veteran players, the team has continually turned to youth to find a suitable replacement.
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All-time leading goalscorer Bradley Wright-Phillips’ contract expired and was not renewed. The 34-year-old was a shadow of his former self in 2019 and was forced to the sideline for a majority of the season due to a groin injury, unably able to catch form in his limited time on the field. Wright-Phillips’ absence allowed forwards Brian White and Tom Barlow to show their worth and ultimately prove they can be relied on as permanent options.
White’s nine goals in 17 starts make him the strongest candidate for the starting striker spot at Red Bull Arena, but if the Red Bulls choose to not make any signings at the forward position, Barlow is undoubtedly the second choice behind White. Barlow’s 2019 season bounced between NYRB II and the first team but the 24-year-old grabbed attention with his limited time for the Red Bulls, scoring nine goals in 20 total appearances.
Additionally, both full-back positions could be filled with former NYRB II players as well. The right-back position is Rece Buckmaster’s to lose with Michael Amir Murillo’s transfer to RSC Anderlecht in early December, while Kyle Duncan also seems set for a starting spot if Kemar Lawrence gets his wish. The team’s tenth pick in the 2020 SuperDraft, Patrick Seagrist, is another option at left-back and the team’s ambition to trade up for the pick leads me to believe he could be a realistic option for some minutes if needed this season.
With two designated player slots open, the Red Bulls have the resources to fill them. But as their recent history has shown, they have had great success by leaning on their youth, and their early work this offseason suggests they are set to do the same in 2020.