If something has been different about the New York Red Bulls in recent weeks, it's been the faith instilled in some of the club’s youngest players.
Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke previously preached the importance of nurturing his less experienced players by giving them chances, but until recently he had rarely done so in league play.
Lately Petke has turned to the likes of right back Chris Duvall, center back Matt Miazga and left back Ambroise Oyongo in an effort to inject some life into a New York squad that has been lacking consistency this season, and the results on the field have been promising, albeit not perfect.
The three youngsters have had rough patches, as expected, but have looked plenty capable for the most part – showing off some of the potential Petke and his coaching staff have gushed about in the past but did not have the confidence to field until now.
“Individually, I think they’ve had some very, very good moments, but I also think that they’ve had some moments that they can learn from,” Petke said earlier in the week. “I think the good moments heavily outweigh the moments that they’re going to improve on. The good thing about those three young men is they’re eager, they’re willing to learn and they want the information and they want to run with this.”
The start of the trend came in late May when Duvall, 22, got the nod at right back against the Portland Timbers as a result of some struggles from veterans Kosuke Kimura and Richard Eckersley. Duvall showed well in that match and has started every game since.
Perhaps the rookie fullback’s solid performances gave Petke confidence to turn to the 19-year-old Miazga several weeks later in a slump-busting victory at New England on June 8.
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Miazga seized the opportunity and continued to start, and Petke added 23-year-old Oyongo to the mix in a June 14 Open Cup match against the New York Cosmos. Despite the team's lackluster performance that night, Oyongo remained in the lineup when MLS play resumed with a June 27 home match against Toronto FC.
A domino effect, it seems, but one that has allowed Petke to achieve one of his goals by beginning to replicate a strategy about which he has always felt strongly.
“As a guy that was brought up in this in organization since I was drafted – and the one thing that really kept calling me back was that I want this to be a true New York club, a homegrown-type club,” said Petke, “I don’t want it to be relying on older, more experienced players that come in every year or two. I want to start somewhere and start from the bottom and have guys have longevity here, have guys grow up in this club and learn from it and be very identifiable with it.”
Duvall, Miazga and Oyongo have each remained in the lineup since breaking in. Between them they have 10 MLS starts and three assists and currently comprise three-quarters of New York’s starting back line. It’s quite the change of pace for Petke and the Red Bulls, and possibly a long-overdue one, too.
“Does that mean next week, the week after, is going to be a whole new lineup gradually with all young players? I doubt it,” said Petke. “But these guys have really given me the confidence to really go with my gut when a young player is playing well during the week.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.