HARRISON, N.J. – Sunday night brought about plenty of frustration for the New York Red Bulls, and in a squad where change is the exception to the rule, it was the lone newcomer that made the biggest impact.
For over 80 minutes, New York managed to keep Toronto’s potent attacking forces at bay, thanks in large part to the contributions of center-back Gideon Baah.
In his Red Bulls debut, Baah started, and played all 90 minutes of the season opener, impressing fans, teammates, and coaches alike. The 24-year-old paired with veteran Ronald Zubar, and showcased his stellar composure on the ball; and his considerable defensive instincts on the day.
“I thought he was very good,” head coach Jesse Marsch said of Baah. “On the ball, he was fantastic. Him and Ronald made it very hard on [Sebastian] Giovinco. I think he fit into the team seamlessly. Him and Ronald were both big positives on the day.”
Captain Dax McCarty was equally impressed with his ability to slow down the reigning league MVP.
“Gideon Baah was fantastic,” he said. “I thought him and Ronald did very well in trying to snuff out the only dangerous counter-attacks that they had.”
Baah’s performance on Sunday afternoon may have taken some by surprise, as it was the first chance for many to witness the Ghanaian international in action. But to those who have shared the pitch with him over the course of preseason, his exploits were hardly unforeseen.
“When he got to training, you knew what kind of player he was going to be and what kind of game he was going to have,” defender Kemar Lawrence said. “You know he loves to handle the ball, he’s good with the ball at his feet, but he’s not stupid with it. He knows when to play it up field and he knows when to do his thing.
“Based off of just training with him, I knew he was going to have a great game. He stepped in today and he was smart about everything. He played simple most times, and when he needed to do his thing—dribble a bit or cut a defender—he was on the right track. And he was on the right track with the back four and with the team in general.”
A season opener can be a tough test for any player in MLS. But for Baah, the task was exponentially more difficult, making his standout debut all the more impressive.
Not only was he asked to quickly adjust to new teammates, a new system, and a new lifestyle in America, Baah also had to learn the ways of a new league while subsequently being throw into the fire, as his first big test came against Giovinco, the league’s top attacking talent.
“Everything is different,” he said after the match. “It’s just up to me to adjust to the game, to the speed and the physicality but, yeah, I think everything is different for me. [Giovinco] is a great player and it was very, very tough marking him.”
He didn’t do it alone, however, as Baah received significant guidance from his veteran partner in central defense, Ronald Zubar. Now entering his second MLS season, the Frenchman was a steadying force in the backline and aided Baah’s assimilation to the league.
“I think he’s my teacher on the field,” Baah added. “I have to listen to Jesse, but when the crowd gets so loud, there’s nothing you can hear from the coaches and the technical [staff] so he’s the one I listen to. [He has] a lot of experience and I think today we did a good job. We tried to keep a clean sheet but unfortunately we didn’t. I think this season it’s going to be a good partnership between us.”
It was a lot to take in, but Baah was pleased with his first go-round, vowing to learn from his first foray into MLS action.
“I loved everything about my debut today,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate that we lost. Congratulations to Toronto FC. I think they did a good job and it’s just unfortunate that we lost. But I think it’s a good start, especially for me”