Luis Barraza probably would’ve liked a mulligan on the second-ever professional shot he faced. Tigres UANL’s Andre-Pierre Gignac briskly headed a ball on net to which a diving Barraza’s outstretched left arm got a finger-tip on, but couldn’t prevent it from sailing into the right corner. Just 30 minutes into his New York City FC debut, he was facing a deficit against one of the most dangerous clubs in North America.
Barraza then gave up his next two shots en route to NYCFC’s 4-0 loss to Tigres in a professional debut he’d surely like to forget. In what was a collective embarrassment that knocked the Boys in Blue from the Concacaf Champions League on a combined 5-0 aggregate score, Barraza made just two saves on Tigres’ six shots on goal, allowed three goals off of crosses, and showed no leadership in a rather unexpected first career start.
The team’s third-string goalie was given the start within 48 hours of kickoff in Orlando. Starting goalkeeper Sean Johnson couldn’t travel to Florida due to COVID-19 concerns and then-backup goalie Brad Stuver’s contract had expired. NYCFC also had an emergency goalkeeper who also caught COVID-19.
For the 24-year-old Marquette alum — who has been NYCFC’s third goalkeeping option since being drafted 13th overall in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft — it appears that he along with the club seem just fine with his slow developmental rate. That December 15 CCL match put Barraza in a position to give NYCFC one of its biggest upsets ever, advancing them to the semifinals. Instead it may have prolonged the date of his next appearance.
NYCFC’s selection of Barraza left many fans surprised. In 2018, they used their 19th overall SuperDraft pick to select another goalkeeper, Jeff Caldwell out of Virginia. And in Caldwell’s sophomore season, once Barraza had been drafted, NYCFC seemed to have lost interest in the former US Youth National Team goalkeeper.
Caldwell was loaned to USL side Memphis 901 for the remainder of the 2019 season — where he made 28 appearances — before being released by NYCFC and then claimed by New England in the Waiver Draft.
But wouldn’t a loan do nothing but benefit Barraza? For a team that believes in playing the youth and that prides itself on its academy, it seems like Barraza has not been a developmental priority for the Cityzens.
Homegrowns James Sands and Justin Haak were both dealt on loan to USL sides during their rookie seasons. Juan Pablo Torres is currently on loan after making just three appearances in the last two seasons. Gio Reyna and Joe Scally both graduated from the academy onto the Bundesliga.
The difference? Each of those players are 21 years old or younger. Each one of those players played for the USYNT prior to joining NYCFC and the club would like to foster their pathway back into the national team’s radar — especially the academy graduates. At 24, Barraza’s breakout window is closing and he nor the club seem to have any interest in changing those circumstances.
In NYCFC’s brief stretch of preseason games ahead of the 2021 season, Barraza appears to be the team’s backup option. However, NYCFC’s trend of signing players in need of a second chance continued with the signing of New Mexico United goalkeeper Cody Mizell, who could challenge Barraza for that backup role. But along with earning that backup spot, Mizell will have one final chance to prove that he is capable of thriving at the MLS level.
Mizell, 29, who was also a trialist with NYCFC during the 2020 preseason, has made 152 appearances as a USL starter for three different clubs, including leading New Mexico on its Cinderella run to the 2019 US Open Cup quarterfinals. He had a brief stint in MLS with the Colorado Rapids, where he made no appearances within a year of being signed.
While it is progress that NYCFC have added some valuable goalie depth behind Johnson, Barraza or Mizell are not remotely close to being a potential long-term replacement for Johnson once his time with the club is at its end.
Even if Barraza assumes the backup role this season and fills in for the handful of games when Johnson inevitably joins the USMNT, that would in no case shape him into the goalie that NYCFC — or any MLS team — can rely on. Stuver’s month-long stint as the starter in July 2019, which featured three regular season wins in four starts, still did not prove that he would’ve led the team to win the Eastern Conference if he was the team’s number one option all season.
In what should be Barraza’s most defining season yet with NYCFC, it will consist mainly of Open Cup starts and the anticipation of his MLS debut. But it is a make-it-or-break-it season for Barraza, but his priority within the developmental ranks of the organization still remains the biggest concern towards a long-term stint with the Boys in Blue.