Philadelphia, PA – It must be tough to be a fringe player for Red Bull New York.
Since Erik Soler took over as the club's Sporting Director in November 2009, the squad has been reshaped with a vast overhaul - Dane Richards remains the only Red Bulls player from the 2009 roster still with the team.
Soler has made some impressive moves by picking up players flying under the world football radar like Joel Lindpere, Jan Gunnar Solli and Roy Miller while also signing high-profile international stars in Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez.
Needing to fill the roster out with a supporting cast, Soler added youngsters like Matt Kassel, Irving Garcia, Tony Tchani, John Rooney and Austin da Luz, none of whom are still with the club. Tchani was the only fringe player to get a respectable amount of playing time as the former University of Virginia midfielder accumulated 27 appearances in his first season with the Red Bulls before being dealt to Toronto FC along with Danleigh Borman in exchange for Dwayne De Rosario.
While adding more affordable talent is a necessary practice in a salary cap system, the Red Bulls' reserve unit has been a revolving door of players in the Soler era and it has not benefited any entity involved.
The young players previously on the books with the Red Bulls did not develop into regular contributors with the first team, but as long as Soler was dead set on acquiring talent through international transfers and MLS trades, they were never going to get a decent opportunity to show their stuff. They didn't stand a chance from the start.
This season has been no different for New York. The usual suspects of Henry, Marquez, Richards, Solli and Lindpere have featured in many of the club's matches along with newcomers like Markus Holgersson and Wilman Conde. It seemed to be working to adequate success as the Red Bulls got off to a 3-3-1 start, but alarm bells were sounding week to week as a leaky defense hemorrhaged 14 goals through seven games.
Injuries and suspensions piled up for New York, and when Marquez, Solli, Conde, Miller, Teemu Tainio and Stephen Keel were ruled out for the club's match against the New England Revolution on April 28, fans and analysts alike feared a train wreck.
New York was forced to start a back-four of Holgersson, Brandon Barklage, Tyler Ruthven and Connor Lade who had combined for just 23 games of MLS experience, but the club came out on top and kept its first clean sheet of the season in a 1-0 win.
The Red Bulls faced the same predicament when they headed to Carson, Calif., to face the Los Angeles Galaxy on May 5, only this time they were going up against the reigning champions who had not lost at home during the 2011 season.
Nobody gave the "Baby Bulls" a chance, but they kept David Beckham, Robbie Keane, Edson Buddle, Landon Donovan and Mike Magee off the score sheet and pulled off another 1-0 win.
New York's youngsters have come a long way in a short amount of time. They've defied the odds to make the roster and maintain their spots, more than what their predecessors can boast. But this group has taken it a step further in helping the club to back-to-back impressive wins.
Their value to the club can no longer be denied, but we will see just how much the club values them on Wednesday when the Red Bulls host the Houston Dynamo at Red Bull Arena. Marquez and Miller are available for selection as the Mexican returns from suspension and the Costa Rican returns from injury, but will head coach Hans Backe go with the old guard or the hot hand?
Speaking at the club's media day in March, Ruthven said that he was prepared to fight for his place in the squad and work his way up the pecking order.
"I've been in the (18-man squad) to start the year. Obviously, I'd like to stay there," Ruthven said. "There are some veteran guys in front of me, so I just need to stay ready so that if (any) of those guys go down, I can fill in adequately and slowly work my way through the depth chart."
With the "Baby Bulls" ascending to the first team to help the club to consecutive wins and clean sheets, it's safe to say that they're pretty high on the depth chart at the moment.
That level of success should be enough to have New York rethinking its philosophy regarding the playing time given to its starlets.