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Red Bulls sporting director Denis Hamlett on draft-day trade: ‘Best $100,000 we’ve ever spent’

Jan 11, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; Roy Boateng with team officials after being selected as the number 16 overall pick to the New York Red Bulls during the 2019 MLS SuperDraft at McCormick Place. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/USA TODAY Sports)

When the New York Red Bulls released their list of unprotected players, it became clear what was going to be on the club’s offseason wish list.

New York needed defensive depth, at both centerback and fullback. With four picks in Friday’s MLS SuperDraft, two acquired in draft-day trades, Red Bulls sporting director Denis Hamlett believes the club achieved its goal.

“If all goes well and we look back and this is the starting back four in four to five years, I think that’s pretty impressive,” Hamlett said during a conference call with reporters after the draft.

The Red Bulls traded up to No. 16 to get imposing centerback Roy Boateng from UC-Davis, sending $100,000 in General Allocation Money to FC Cincinnati. Half that amount was acquired when FCC picked former Red Bull Hassan Ndam in the expansion draft.

The Red Bulls then selected Fordham forward/midfielder Janos Loebe with their second first-round selection at No. 22, although Hamlett said the German would play at wingback on the professional level. 

They were two of the top three players on the Red Bulls’ scouting list, Hamlett said. It was possible to roll the dice and see if both players “fell in our lap,” Hamlett said, but FC Cincinnati’s asking price made the trade worth it.

“To come away with four players we feel have the potential to be guys who will hopefully be on our team for many years, I think we’ll look back and say that was the best $100,000 we’ve ever spent,” Hamlett said.

The Red Bulls stayed local with their first pick of the second round, taking Hofstra centerback Sean Nealis at No. 25 overall. Hamlett said both Loebe and Nealis attended the Red Bulls’ college combine in December.

The Red Bulls then traded with the Chicago Fire to select Indiana fullback Rece Buckmaster at No. 32 in exchange for the rights of a player to be named later.

“We look for specific types of traits we want to see,” Hamlett said. “I always refer to the Red Bulls DNA. All four guys we drafted today have that in them.”

Although it appears likely the draft picks will play for Red Bull II in the second-tier United Soccer League this year, Hamlett said all four players will have a chance in the preseason to make the first team. He cited the play of Kyle Duncan and Ben Mines last winter as examples of players who won their spots with a strong preseason.

Hamlett said the Red Bulls aren’t done just yet. They are trying to finalize a homegrown deal with Omir Fernandez, a 19-year-old attacking midfielder from the Bronx who came up through the club’s academy, as well as “another piece that we’re trying to get that we feel would complete our group.”

The ultimate goal is a roster of 28-30 who can compete for titles on multiple fronts.

That’s why, on a day the Philadelphia Union dealt all their draft picks to FC Cincinnati, the Red Bulls made a pair of trades in order to select four college players.

With the college game under attack, Hamlett said there’s still quality to find — players such as Vincent Bezecourt, Florian Valot and Aaron Long.

“The job for us to do is to identify and find those kind of players that can come in and have an impact,” Hamlett said. “That is the magic because they are there.”

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