HARRISON, N.J. – To borrow one of Mike Petke’s buzzwords, Péguy Luyindula’s performance on Sunday was “phenomenal,” even if it went a bit overlooked.
Luyindula shone for the Red Bulls for the second straight week in a starting central midfield role on Sunday, delivering three assists as the club knocked off the Chicago Fire, 5-2, and claimed the league's regular-season title in front of a capacity crowd at Red Bull Arena.
Having only contributed one goal during the season when playing as a forward, the veteran enjoyed his finest performance of the season in midfield on Sunday, and it should give him plenty of confidence heading into the playoffs. The second half, in particular, demonstrated that he can serve as a situational playmaker, deployed to pull the strings when the Red Bulls need offense or a different dimension in their attack.
“Over the last three, four weeks in practice, Péguy has been consistently the best player,” Petke told reporters after the match. “He has really retooled certain things, and he knows we’re looking at him as more of a midfielder because of his ability to hold the ball for us and his vision. I think his days as a forward -- it’s a very different league here than what he’s used to, and I think he’s so comfortable on the ball, his vision is so good.”
For Luyindula, playing in a central midfield role, which he also did in the 3-0 win at Houston on Oct. 20, has simply been more going to “back to basics” than reinventing himself. He grew up playing that position before being converted to a forward, where he found success in France but struggled with his finishing during much of the current campaign.
That familiarity was evident on the flighted ball that Thierry Henry brought down and rifled home for the crucial equalizer in the 24th minute on Sunday, and also as Luyindula repeatedly turned his opponents and hit defense-splitting passes.
“I’m a soccer player," he told reporters after the game. "I love football. I like to play football everywhere, every part of the field. I was formed as a midfielder when I was young, so it’s just back to basics, you can say, and it’s a great feeling for me to give goals for my partners and to hold the ball for them when they were busy or a little bit tired. I can do it. I know I can do it. I know that I can pass and I know that I can score. I would kind of think that I did good today.”
Luyindula did fare well against the Fire, but only after overcoming a first half in which the 34-year-old Frenchman was heavily involved in the action but off the mark with his shooting and passing. In a man-of-the-match performance, the second stanza saw him assist on Lloyd Sam’s stellar game-winner and Eric Alexander’s insurance tally.
The Red Bulls' championship celebration and the fine finishes from Henry, Sam and others overshadowed Luyindula’s game, but that does not take away from the fact that the Red Bulls have found a good fit for another weapon for their upcoming playoff run.
“I don’t know who his coaches were in France, but that guy is a central midfielder, man,” said central midfield partner Dax McCarty. “He’s a brilliant player, and we saw it in practice. I think you maybe see him up front, and he doesn’t do too well on a couple of chances to finish some goals, and everyone gives him a hard time, but in training we see, ‘Man, this guy is an amazing player.’
“For me, playing in the middle with him is an honor," McCarty said. "It gives me an outlet; it gives me a guy that’s capable of holding the ball. He brings something a little bit different than anyone else on our team, and he’s a guy that’s a little more attacking-[minded] than any of our other midfielders we have. To have a guy like him be able to switch things up and contribute the way he did, it was an amazing performance by him.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.