Ian Christianson and the future of the Red Bulls

ian-christianson-and-future-red-bulls
Ian Christianson. (MLSSoccer.com)
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The New York Red Bulls, historically, have suffered from an inability to hold onto young talent.

That's been true since the franchise was known as the Metrostars, from Brad Davis, traded after one season, who went on to brilliant seasons with the Houston Dynamo, to Mike Petke, now the team's interim coach. who was elsewhere for most of his prime, to Marvelle Wynne, a top overall pick who got away for almost nothing.

It's been particularly true in the Red Bulls' win-now Thierry Henry era, as the team consciously privileged proven performers over young development projects in an effort to take advantage of an international star before his talents fade.

The Red Bulls didn't even have a first-round pick this year, for example: it was given away as part of the package that brought Kenny Cooper to New York last season. 

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But the Henry-era Red Bulls have managed to incorporate some draft picks into their lineup, for a time. Their 2010 second-round pick, Tim Ream, played every minute of his rookie season, and much of his second year, before the Red Bulls sold him to Bolton Wanderers. Last season's first-round pick, goalkeeper Ryan Meara, started and excelled for the first part of the season, before a hip injury ended his year.

And now they've got one who might stick: the Red Bulls' lone pick in Thursday's M.L.S. Superdraft, defensive midfielder Ian Christianson.

Christianson, a 5'11", 185 pound product of Georgetown University, might be the best pure defensive midfielder in the draft.

“We had a short list of players who we hoped would make it through to us with the 22nd pick and Ian was on that list,” said Petke, the interim coach, following the pick. “Ian is a player we have seen many times at Georgetown. We also interviewed him and his personality fit what we are looking for at the club. We think that we can help develop Ian into a potential contributor for our team.”

The Red Bulls will have a player operating in a role, in Dax McCarty, that is likely to reward McCarty's defensive strengths and ability to direct the passing attack from the back while avoiding exposing his limited other offensive abilities.

McCarty was the most durable Red Bull in 2012, playing in a team-high 2,918 minutes and 33 games. But this has not been typical of a McCarty season, with his previous career highs of 2,340 minutes and 28 games. So making sure the Red Bulls have a fallback plan should McCarty miss any time is vital.

There's no guarantee when players make the leap from college to M.L.S., of course. The Red Bulls tried something similar for Ream after his strong 2010, drafting, in Tyler Lassiter, a player described by former Red Bulls coach Hans Backe as "Tim Ream's younger brother" early in 2011 camp. (Ironically, they also drafted John Rooney, Wayne Rooney's actual younger brother.) Lassiter, however, never made an appearance for the Red Bulls before getting loaned out, then waived, before 2011 was over.

Christianson is unlikely to log the kind of minutes Ream did, in his first year, unless something goes terribly wrong with the Red Bulls' plans for 2013. But he's young, and good, and might just be a key player in the Red Bulls' future.