The New York Red Bulls couldn’t have dreamed a better start to their run in the MLS is Back Tournament, opening with a 1-0 win over Atlanta United on Saturday night.
Midfielders Kaku and Florian Valot provided a bit of magic in the opening minutes, with Kaku playing a perfect ball into the space in front of Valot. The Frenchman was able to collect the ball in stride and dribble in alone to beat Atlanta ‘keeper Brad Guzan.
Head coach Chris Armas praised the pair, who joined him in the post-game press conference.
“It's fitting for the two guys sitting next to me, Flo [Valot] and Kaku both,” said Armas. “They really understand how to operate in that red zone, we call it, the space between the other teams 6’s and backline because their awareness and their ability to know exactly where they are at all times, and then to make final plays whether it's a goal or an assist their passing ability and intelligence is of a high level.”
Armas employed a lineup that utilized Kaku and Valot in similar roles on opposite sides of the fields, behind the duo of Tom Barlow and Danny Royer.
“For Kaku, he’s able to make the game, but when you have another playmaker, when you play with two 10s, it takes pressure off of Kaku. We say, how long does it take a couple of players to get on the same page? And these guys can get on the same page pretty quickly.”
It was the first goal of the season for Valot, who has missed large portions of the last two seasons due to injury. Valot had two assists in the season opener, including one on Kaku’s goal in the 3-2 win over FC Cincinnati, who the Red Bulls will face during Group E play in Orlando.