New York Red Bulls: Could John Tolkin be their next star?

New York Red Bulls, John Tolkin. Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports
New York Red Bulls, John Tolkin. Mandatory Credit: USA TODAY Sports /

Instead of penning fantasy epics for Peter Jackson to eventually get his hands on, this Tolkin will capture imaginations with the magic he produces on the pitch. It was just about a year ago that 18-year old fullback John Tolkin signed his Homegrown contract with New York Red Bulls, completing a step that was inevitable since joining the youth system in 2015.

It truly was a no-brainer for New York, part of the Red Bull family, keen at spotting and developing young talent throughout its network. Tolkin was coming off his first taste of professional life; in 2019, the defender debuted for USL affiliate, Red Bulls II.

In 13 appearances, the academy product chipped in three assists and solidified himself as one of the brightest young talents in North America. Although the standout is still waiting on his first-team debut, he continued his development in 2020 with Red Bulls II, playing 85% of the minutes available in the 16 game season. Compared often to another Red Bulls Homegrown player, Tyler Adams. Tolkin will hope to break through as a regular at 18, just as the Leipzig midfielder did.

The Goods

More from MLS Multiplex

Deployed predominantly as a left-back, the teen is more than comfortable on the ball. Capable of bringing the ball out on defense, he attacks the flank in search of crossing opportunities with his strong left foot.

Tolkin can also invert into midfield with his strong technical skills, playing out short passes and retaining possession. Down the line, playing as a 6 maybe his full-time calling and depending on his development potential as an 8.

Already his vision has impressed when switching the field or picking out a target in the box. As noted, his left foot is powerful, not just on crosses but long shots too.

Regardless of where he is placed on the field, the New Jersey native is continually working. After playing off forward balls, Tolkin immediately moves into space and attempts line breaking runs. There’s a similar hustle in his defense, he’s a strong marker, and his advanced reading leads to plenty of interceptions and blocks.

The (Not so) Goods

As a defender, and especially if he is to stay there, Tolkin must get stronger. While he is strong technically on the ball, the same can not be said physically. Tolkin can be pushed around at times; while this can sometimes result in a foul, the physical toll will diminish performance throughout a game. This will be more pronounced as he plays tougher and more robust competition.

Not just does his physical strength need to improve on the ball but in the tackle as well. While he’s smart enough to get an extra step on ball carriers, he doesn’t yet have the strength to impose himself on them. Lacking in natural athletism, his aerial presence will never be there, and he won’t be the quickest defender on the pitch, which could lead him to struggle against superior talents.

Looking Ahead

There’s no doubt that Tolkin can play in Europe. It will take some time, but the talent and work ethic are there. Considering the attention and resources Red Bull pays on development, he finds himself in an excellent position to succeed.

Where could he end up next? My money is on something with “RB” in the name. Look for Tolkin at RB Salzburg or RB Leipzig within the next few years. Red Bulls German counterparts would seem to have the inside track on the talent, considering their history for deals.

Trending. A look at college soccer alumni in the 2020 MLS season. light

Austria or Germany are ideal locations, not just because of the Red Bull connections but as leagues that would allow him to flourish. Ultimately, Tolkin has the potential to be a quality Bundesliga defender.