It's easy to look for bright spots amidst the 5-1 start of the New York Red Bulls. Under new head coach Hans Backe, the team is off to its best start in recent memory and sits atop the Eastern Conference.
Most impressive is that from Saturday’s 2-0 road win over D.C. United, just the team’s second road win in as many seasons, six starters from last year were in the starting 11 at RFK Stadium.
One of those starters is Jeremy Hall, who is smiling a lot more these days.
Hall was the team’s first-round pick last year, a left midfielder who used his speed and skill to consistently get behind the defense in college. He was then switched to right back last year, a position he ended up calling home for all of last year’s five-win season.
“Last year was a long year,” Hall told MLSsoccer.com.
There was talk of Hall moving back to the midfield in 2010, especially after the team traded for right back Chris Albright on draft day. But it has been Hall, slotted in at right back to start the season, who has been filling in while Albright has recovered from last year’s season-ending injury. And it’s been Hall who has been one of the steadiest performers for New York this season.
“I just feel a whole lot more comfortable than last year, I know what to expect and what I need to do,” Hall said. “This isn’t college where you can just blow past someone with speed or skill. I needed to learn how to use my body and also how to think out there on the field better.”
Hall tallied an assist two weeks ago against Philadelphia but it’s the muscle he has shown this season that is most impressive. This year, Hall is consistently mixing it up on the right side of the back line. It has made him a more complete player and also one who is earning a reputation as someone difficult to break down for attackers.
Last year in mid-June, Hall was posterized by Seattle’s Fredy Montero, who stripped the rookie defender of the ball deep in his own end and then slotted in the game’s equalizing goal, assuring a 1-1 draw at Giants Stadium. It was an embarrassing moment for Hall and his first real rookie gaffe. Hall says that it was a learning moment for him, but it wasn’t the on the field lesson that sticks out most.
“At halftime, after that play happened, Juan Pablo Angel and Mike Petke came up to me in the locker room and talked to me,” Hall said. “They told me not to worry about it, that they were confident in me. Those types of things happen to everyone. It’s how I respond that matters the most.”
And since that play, Hall has been trying to put his stamp on the game. He’s been a big part of the Red Bulls fast start to the season.
“This year is so much fun, very different from last year,” Hall said. “I like this winning thing a lot.”
Kristian Dyer is a reporter for MLSSoccer.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.