Rookie Rundown: Richie's Babes poised to impress

New York has a solid bunch of freshmen, thanks to its assistant

Richie Williams, Red Bulls

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Sure, it's too early to make
wild predictions about how the 2010 season might roll out, but after a slew of
preseason scrimmages, and with Matchday 1 done and dusted, it's safe to say the
New York Red Bulls boast the most exciting bunch of rookies.

Center back Tim Ream plays like
a five-year veteran. Midfielder Tony Tchani missed some preseason but looks
strong and confident on the ball. Forward Conor Chinn finished preseason as the
club's second leading goalscorer. Midfielders Austin da Luz and Irving Garcia
both have a good touch and are exciting to watch.

So who’s to thank for such pickings?
Probably assistant coach Richie Williams, and the franchise did just that by
extending his contract on Tuesday.

"Richie has been an
invaluable resource for the club since I joined the club in January," Red
Bulls head coach Hans Backe said in a PR-tinged statement that was also very
telling. "His ability to assess players both at the MLS and college level
has been vital to our early success this season."  

Indeed it has. And you’re
welcome.

The foreign-owned franchise has
employed a foreign-led technical staff with little experience of the domestic
game's unique structure—drafts, caps, relationship with college soccer and so
on. It needed an MLS expert to help navigate its way through the league's
idiosyncrasies. It needed Williams, who has been around MLS since its
inception, more or less.

Williams played a big part—and
one can assume, a lead part—in making those excellent picks in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft.
So how did Williams and bosses approach this year’s draft, especially given all
the holes in the Red Bulls roster following a disastrous 2009 season?

Because MLS coaches have to deal
with a fixed roster size, each and every signing is a risk. So they look at a young
player’s potential and how well he can adapt to the rigors of professional ball
after a cushy ride in college.

“Rookies are going to have their
ups and downs, but you've got to keep working with them, especially in our
league which is very difficult, in terms of our salary cap, to obtain
players," Williams told MLSsoccer.com. "You have to pick these young
kids with the hope that one day they will contribute to the team in a positive
way."

Ream, who played the full 90
minutes in last week's 1-0 defeat of Chicago, is already contributing.

A second-round pick, Ream had
the best outing of any rookie in the league. Compared with those first-round
choices also making their debut—Toni Stahl and Danny Mwanga for Philadelphia
and Ike Opara at San Jose, for example—Ream looked calm and professional, and easily
the better signing.

"It didn't seem like a ton
of people were rating him [prior the draft]," Williams said. "We felt
we could hold off until the second round to get Tim, which fortunately we were
able to do. He's done very well for us."

Ream's ability to read the game
and play the ball out of defense under pressure has made him a very early
contender for the Rookie of the Year. No selection from beyond the first round
has earned that honor since Jonathan Bornstein did in 2006.

Being able to adapt to MLS—especially
to its pace, both physically and mentally—is a highly regarded rookie
characteristic. Technical skill is good because that can't be taught at this
level, but learning how to keep up and read a fast game tactically is the
biggest adjustment a rookie has to make.

Williams cited da Luz and Chinn
as contrasting examples.

"You can see when [da Luz]
has the ball he's much better with his first touch—he can see the pass, he can
play quicker with the ball—but when guys are physical with him, he struggles,"
Williams said. "Whereas with [Chinn], he can deal with all the physical
stuff, but at times when he's asked to play a little bit more he struggles with
because the pace of the play is quicker."

As for Tchani and Garcia, the
Red Bulls staff felt they were among the better pure players in the draft, but
the pair satisfied positional needs, too. Tchani will challenge for a central
midfield role alongside the likes of Joel Limpere and Seth Stammler, while
Garcia will hope to earn minutes on the right wing.

"There are different pieces
in each player that you've got to work with, and you've got to just keep trying
in the hope that they'll become complete players," Williams said.
"It's not an easy thing, but it's fun to see how they get better and how
they improve. You'd like to see everybody do well and succeed individually, and
collectively, for the team.”