Tim Parker
(Steve Luciano / AP Photo)

New York Red Bulls training camp is finally here, and with the season right around the corner, it’s time to start looking at the roster.

Onz Chery

It’s that time of the year again. Endless cardio, Chris Armas’s motivational speeches, pumped up team regulars and nervous newbies.

It’s time for the New York Red Bulls preseason camp.

The three-time Supporters’ Shield winners started pre-season training on Monday at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The club released its preseason roster just a day before.

A preseason roster can determine the outcome of a team at the end of the season. With that in mind, five key points stand out on the New York Red Bulls’ roster:

1. Not the best roster but not the worst either

It was a depressing time for the RBNY fans when their club first announced their pre-season roster on Sunday. The team didn’t make a major signing yet.

Two days later, New York brought Southampton F.C. winger Josh Sims back on loan until Jun. 30. That was a huge boost up but it’s not quite everything the team needs.

The right-back position demands reinforcement. The club doesn’t have a prominent forward and all-star left-back Kemar Lawrence might leave the team before the start of the season.

Most of these issues aren’t as bad as it seems. If Lawrence does part ways with the Red Bulls, Amro Tarek could step in his position. Tarek had a strong season last year at center-back. He proved that he can be trusted.

Strikers Tom Barlow, Mathias Jørgensen and Brian White aren’t all-stars but they’re youngsters with potential. White and Barlow surprised many last season with their scoring touches.

White tallied nine goals in 20 games while Barlow found the net four times in 13 appearances, four of which came off the bench. The American even scored a goal in the playoffs.

It’s not like there isn’t any hope that the Red Bulls will acquire a notable forward. Scott Burns of the Daily Record reported that New York is targeting Scottish Premiership’s third top scorer, Sam Cosgrove.

Another position the Red Bulls have been shopping for is the goalkeeping spot. Toronto FC keeper, Alex Bono, and R.S.C. Anderlecht shot-stopper, Thomas Didillon were both reportedly under RBNY’s radar.

Unfortunately, the club didn’t sign any of them, which isn’t the end of the world because Ryan Meara has proven that he’s a keeper who can be relied on time and time again even though he was Luis Robles’s backup for the past four seasons.

And we’re only in January, there’s still a lot of time left to sign players. Armas’s men will start their MLS season on Mar. 1. Last year, the club didn’t make a major signing until Feb. 12, bringing in Jørgensen.

2. Kemar Lawrence isn’t in camp

New York’s left-back, Kemar Lawrence, won’t be in camp until Jan. 27 due to a “family situation” per the club’s website. Lawrence expressed his desire to leave the club earlier in the offseason.

It’s rumored that Chicago Fire have interest in him.

If the Jamaican does transfer to Chicago, RBNY will be left with a huge hole to fill up.

Lawrence was their only All-Star last season, and he’s been one of the best fullbacks in the league. It’s very unlikely that any of the other left-backs the Red Bulls have would be able to mirror Lawrence’s performances.

That said, the club does have youngsters with potential at his position.

3. Patrick Seagrist vs John Tolkin

Since Lawrence is away, two exciting young left-backs have a whole lot of time to fight to outdo each other in the training camp: Patrick Seagrist and John Tolkin.

Seagrist was drafted with the 10th overall pick in the 2020 draft. The 21-year-old had a tremendous collegiate career with Marquette University, in which he made the All-Big First Team twice and led them in assists his senior year.

Tolkin, on the other hand, is a 17-year-old New York Red Bull product. The club has had high hopes for him since last season.  The teenager played for the second-team last campaign, where he racked up four assists in 13 outings.

As fierce as their battle might get, it’s possible neither win the left-back job if Kemar Lawrence leaves. Amro Tarek is more than capable of playing left-back, and he had a strong season last year. Even though he was mainly playing center back, Armas might favor him over the two youngsters.

4. A sea of draftees

One thing The Metros aren’t lacking in this pre-season is draftees. They went from four draftees last year to seven. One goalkeeper, Wallis Lapsley, One left-back, Seagrist, three central midfielders, Deri Corfe, Stavros Zarokostas, and Barry Sharifi and two wingers, Cherif Dieye and Niko Petridis.

New York hasn’t seen one of its draft picks make an impact on the senior team during their rookie season in a long time. Having seven of them gives the team them as good a chance to break that streak as they’ve had in years.

RBNY’s first two picks are the leading contenders: Seagrist and Dieye. New York was eyeing Dieye well before the draft.

5. Don’t sleep on the two RBNYII players

Two of the three second-team players who were in the training camp last season are now with the first team: Jared Stroud and Chris Lema. It shows that reserve players in the training camp are highly valued.

This year the Red Bulls have two RBNYII players in their preseason camp: center back, Roy Boateng, and central midfielder, Kyle Zajec.

Boateng was drafted last year and only made two appearances on the second team last season. So, it’s a bit odd to see him on the training camp roster. That said, he was the club’s first draft pick last year. Despite not having played much, talent might still be dazzling.

As for Zajec, he started his youth career with the team in 2012. He tallied four assists last season with the second team in 23 games last season.

Being with the club for eight years, Zajec is, more than likely, familiar with the team’s style of play. That’s a huge advantage in training camp.

The 22-year-old might follow Alex Muyl’s path, a winger who started playing for RBNY since his youth days, before making the first team.

Originally from Haiti, Ralph 'Onz' Chery started his writing career as a City College of New York student with The Campus. He also wrote for First Touch, the Cosmopolitan Soccer League and other local leagues. After graduating, Onz started covering the New York Red Bulls for ESNY and joined Haitian Times.