Although Sean Nealis was New York Red Bulls’ third pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft, he’s the first player the club signed from the draft. Here are five things that helped him officially become a pro.
The first player the New York Red Bulls officially signed from the 2019 MLS SuperDraft wasn’t their first or second selection. It was their third pick, center back Sean Nealis.
The Red Bulls signed Nealis on Sunday. The 22-year-old defender was the first pick of the second round, 25th overall.
It’s quite unlikely for one of New York’s second-round pick to officially join the team as early as February. Let’s take a look at five things that helped Nealis sign a professional contract with the Supporters’ Shield champions about just a month after the draft:
1. He’s built like a bull
As most teams, RBNY likes their center back big, tall and explosive. Their two starting central defenders from last season Tim Parker and Aaron Long are 6-foot-1 and 6-foot-2, respectively.
Nealis fits right in New York’s defense. The Long Island native is even taller than the average center half height, he’s 6-foot-4.
“He’s physically gifted, he’s athletic,” Tim Parker said via Pro Soccer USA. “That’s kind of what we look for in center backs here.”
The Metros’ head coach Chris Armas even compared Nealis to Parker because of his size.
“Physically, he’s gifted and strong, he’s fast, he almost seems like a young Tim Parker” Armas said in an interview after practice on Feb. 8, “reads situations really well, he’s excellent in the air and he’s a real competitor.”
2. Nealis has great defensive mentors
The former Hofstra University captain’s mentors are former MLS and U.S. center back C.J. Brown, ex-Bundesliga defender Bradley Carnell, and his teammates Parker and Amro Tarek.
Brown won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup four times and the MLS once.
Coach Armas noted that Nealis’ mentors put a lot to learn on his plate but he was able to cope with it.
“Seeing Tim [Parker] take him under the wing, seeing Amro [Tarek] working with him, seeing C.J. Brown and Bradley Carnell, two top defenders in their time working with him after training, coaching him during sessions, video sessions; it’s been a lot on Sean but he’s really taking it well,” Armas said after training.
Parker, who was one of the best center backs last season, also expressed that he’s been teaching Nealis everything he learned in his MLS days thus far.
“I try to talk to him as much as I can, just about little things I can pick up when I’m watching him,” Parker told Pro Soccer USA.
3. His attitude
When asked about Nealis in the post-practice interview on Feb. 8, the first thing Armas uttered is that he has a chance to make the first team because of his attitude.
“Sean Nealis has a real chance because of his attitude and his mentality. He comes to work, he comes to improve every day,” Amras said.
New York’s sporting director Denis Hamlett also touched on the youngster’s characteristics.
“We are pleased to welcome Sean to the first team,” Hamlett told the club’s website. “When we drafted Sean we knew we were getting a quality player, but throughout preseason camp he has displayed qualities we look for on and off the field.”
4. Nealis scored versus Portland in preseason
The center back scored a header versus Portland Timbers in a 2-2 draw in the Mobile Mini Sun Cup on Saturday night, just a day before the Red Bulls signed him.
Nealis tallied four goals and three assists in 72 games with Hofstra.
5. His bond with fellow Long Islander Parker
Parker is a friend of Nealis’ older brother Jimmy Nealis. They played against each other in college. Nealis used to watch Parker go against his older brother.
Furthermore, the center half and Parker are both from Long Island.
“He’s a fellow Long Islander I can’t really say a bad thing, but Sean’s done well,” Parker said when Pro Soccer USA reporter Dylan Butler asked him about Nealis.
Being from the same place and having a mutual connection perhaps led to an easier and smoother mentor-student relationship.