Red Bulls U-18s embrace chance to train with Argentina

Academy side puts Messi, Cambiasso, Zanetti, Mascherano, Di Maria through paces

Lionel Messi training U18 2

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RBNY

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ– Sean Davis was sitting on his living room couch at his house in Holmdel, NJ last Saturday watching one of the world’s best players, Lionel Messi, and FC Barcelona win 2-1 over Getafe.

Four days later, instead of staring at a television screen showing a match thousands of miles away, the Duke University-bound Davis and many of his Red Bulls Academy Under-18 mates were standing side by side with Messi, along with other world class players globally known through just by their last names: Cambiasso, Zanetti, Mascherano, Di Maria.

On Wednesday, the Red Bulls Academy Under-18 squad was given the once-in-the-lifetime opportunity to train with the Argentinean National Team in preparation for the South Americans’ friendly against the United States at New Meadowlands Stadium Saturday night. For Davis and his teammates, the opportunity not only to see, but to play with one of the best international sides in the world was an unbelievable experience.

“You see it on TV and you see how they do it and they make it look easy,” Davis said. “And then, you play against them and it’s just incredible how fast they move, how simple they keep it and how they just can dominate us so easily. It’s definitely something that we talk about now and we’re going to build off of and try to replicate what they do.”

The idea to have the Under-18s, who will also play again on Thursday, train with Argentina came about after the federation contacted Head of Scouting Cris da Silva early last week. When the sessions were finalized, the players were informed and couldn’t believe what lay in front of them. 

“I thought our coach wasn’t serious, I thought we were just going to be cones, if anything, and no one really thought it was serious until we actually got here today,” said University of Maryland-bound forward and Holmdel, NJ native Dan Metzger. “It’s just amazing to actually get out there and play with them.”

With a wintry mix of precipitation pelting area, the Under-18s trudged into the warmth of the Timex Performance Center Wednesday morning with understandable jitters and butterflies. Minutes later, a wave of blue and white-jacketed players strolled by, as many of the young Red Bulls tried to hold back the range of emotions.

After Argentina went through several warm-up exercises on their own, they joined up with the Under-18s for two smaller sided games and a larger field drill. Most of the time, the Red Bulls were chasing to get possession back against the faster members of the national team, while trying to soak the entire experience in.

“When we started to play in 5 v 2 everyone was nervous, (saying), ‘Oh, what if you mess up?’” said Akron University-bound defender Bryan Gallego of Kinnelon, NJ. “But once you got into the game, once you got your first few passes in, you kind of settled in. It’s hard to play, they’re good, they’re playing one-touch around us, but we stayed composed.”

“I think it just really shows you what it’s like at the next level,” U-18 Head Coach Paul O’Donnell said. “This is quite a few levels above us, the ball movement and speed of play and really the thought process – they’re two or three steps ahead of us – they’re mentally tuned in, they’re always in the right place at the right time and that allows them to move the ball quickly, play one- and two- touch.”

While the Red Bulls did their best to keep up with the play and keep it competitive, they also were cautious as both sides did not want to see any one get injured. Despite obviously being outplayed, there were some small victories for the youngsters, Gallego remembers that he was able to poke the ball away from Messi while Davis said he got by Javier Mascherano one or two of times – something the intimidating Barcelona defensive midfielder apparently wasn’t happy about.

However, though those memories will always endure for these players, the lessons learned on the pitch were invaluable in the development of the Red Bulls.

“We can talk all we want as coaches about speed of play and quickness and it’s not the same as being – seeing it is one thing but being in the middle of it is a completely other thing and I think some of our guys had their heads spinning at times because of how quick the ball was moving, and they couldn’t keep up with it,” said Red Bulls Director of Youth Programs Bob Montgomery. “The game is the best teacher and this was the day that it could be demonstrated.”

Over the past few years, the Red Bulls Academy has reached a number of milestones. New York’s First Team has signed several homegrown players including Matt Kassel, Sacir Hot and U.S. National Team forward Juan Agudelo. Last season, members of the academy took on its counterparts at Mexican giant, Atlas, at Red Bull Arena and also hosted the U.S. Under-17 squad. The opportunity to train with the two-time World Cup winners this week only increased the burgeoning Academy’s profile in its quest to be the best in North America.

“The Red Bulls are getting worldwide recognition, it shows that (Argentina) respects us, the fact that they would invite us and the way they’ve treated us since we have arrived,” Director of Youth Programs Montgomery said. “We’re very thankful for the opportunity and for the way that they’ve respected us.”

“They offer so many opportunities, every practice is intense, the coaches really keep everything really professional, and everything about the Academy just helps everybody get better,” Davis said. “The fact that there’s a pro team and the fact that they offer opportunities like this just makes everybody want to come to this club and want to get better.”