Academy Director Sean McCafferty and Caden Clark have history.
The two met while McCafferty was in his previous role as Academy Director at FC Barcelona's Barça Residency Academy in Casa Grande, Arizona. There, Clark was recruited and brought in from his youth club in Minnesota.
When McCafferty joined the New York Red Bulls, he knew the energetic midfielder would be a fit for the organization.
“With Caden, I felt that he fit our playing philosophy and looking at how he plays -- his against the ball attributes, his qualities in possession -- I just felt it'd be a fantastic fit for us, he's also a top top talent,” McCafferty said. “Ultimately, for me, my job as the Academy Director is identifying the best players and then bringing them in so we can develop them. Caden’s pathway was set right? He knew he was going to be a pro, he had the attributes, the mindset, so ultimately coming here to Red Bulls II as a 16-year-old, given the platform to ultimately go on and do some of the things he's done.”
Clark came to New York, joining Red Bulls II before signing with the first team. In his first start, he scored against Atlanta United FC and followed that up with another great goal away against Toronto FC. But in landing one of the top talents at the organization, the track record was important.
“For me it was showing him the pathway because he wanted to be a pro,” McCafferty said. “His mindset was very pro driven, and ultimately just showed him that New York Red Bulls, the history of the club -- Tyler Adams, Matt Miazga -- are players that have gone to the very top level. It's a club that wants to play young players, and for me, as a coach and understanding his family's mindset, this was the best place for him. He could accelerate his development at the second team and know that if he did the business, he would get the first team opportunity.”
Not only does the talent need to be there, but the player needs to have the right mindset, something McCafferty says he focuses on when scouting youth players.
“Caden has this confidence, this self-belief, no matter where he is, not only does he belong, but he's the best, right? And he has that, whether it’s with the second team, whether it's playing up at Barça Academy as a young player. His confidence and ability to impact games is second to none. Obviously, we're seeing that now, not only we saw with the second team, but you see with the first team with his goal return on the amount of minutes he's played is unbelievable.”
McCafferty oversees all technical aspects of Red Bulls Academy, with a focus on player development and coaching among the Red Bulls five cost-free academy programs from U-12 to U-18, as well as the Red Bulls U-23 team that competes in USL League Two. McCafferty also works closely with the Red Bulls First Team staff to ensure that the same philosophy, playing style and training principles are taught throughout all levels of the academy.
When Clark seized the opportunity, going from USL to MLS in the blink of an eye, McCafferty knew the midfielder would take advantage.
“I think as soon as he walked onto that field, and that stage, he knew that's where he belonged,” McCafferty said. “He knew that he was going to have an impact. That's his mentality. That's his mindset. There's no insecurities, there's no fear. And again, that's the confidence of a top young player.”
Joining RBNY was a no-brainer for McCafferty -- especially to continue to develop and nurture the top talent in North America.
“Ultimately, the goal was always to get into an MLS club, to be a Director at a top MLS club. If I had to hand pick one that I would love to end up at, it would have been the New York Red Bulls,” he said. “It's very fortunate I got the opportunity to interview for the position, very fortunate that it was offered and I've loved every second of it. It's an unbelievable organization, both domestically and globally, so I think it's an exciting club to be a part of.”
The Red Bulls have been at the forefront of youth development in North America, finding and developing talents across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut that have had an impact in MLS, with the U.S. National Team, and beyond.
In 2018, the Red Bulls got just over 25% of all minutes played from graduates of Red Bulls Academy, en route to MLS all-time records for wins (22) and points (71) in a season. The Red Bulls currently have eight academy products on the MLS roster, with notable alumni such as Tyler Adams and Matt Miazga playing in Europe.
For McCafferty, seeing a top talent like Clark continue to grow makes him incredibly proud.
“I think for us, we're just fortunate to have him at the club,” McCafferty said. “And obviously to play a big part in his development. His work here is not done. He's going to play a big part in what's going to be a successful season for us. We're excited for the remainder of this season for him and excited for his future.”
The Academy Director, though, knows this isn’t the end of the story -- for Caden or for Red Bulls Academy.
“I'm really happy for him, I'm happy for his family, because the pathway that we laid out is going to really come to fruition here for him,” McCafferty said. “This is just the beginning.”