By ANTHONY J. MERCED
HARRISON, N.J. — Alex Muyl had a breakout performance for the New York Red Bulls (3-3-1, 10 points), scoring the game-winning goal in a 2-0 win over D.C. United (2-3-1, 7 points) on Saturday night. He has had a rough start to 2017 with criticism coming from different avenues. Coach Jesse Marsch has been confident in Muyl’s ability and started him hoping for a strong performance. Muyl, 21, didn’t disappoint.
“He won every dual, every aerial ball, every race, every tackle and really set the tone for the team,” Marsch said. “He knows that his next step is more quality. More goals, more assists, more chances. I know he has it in him because I watched him in college and he was a goal scorer and he was a final play guy. I’ll be honest, I underestimated the ability he has to run, to compete and push on that end.”
Muyl started next to Bradley Wright-Phillips as a striking option and took his chances when they were presented. In total he took four shots, three of them were on target. His best effort before the goal was an open opportunity in the first half that he put into the chest of Bill Hamid. His movement was dynamic and his play was sharp, but he wasn’t rewarded with a goal until the 46th minute. Sacha Kljestan placed a perfect ball into the box from a corner that Muyl jumped for and met with his head. The ball floated toward Hamid but slipped under his body for the game-winning goal.
This season Muyl has made five appearances with Saturday’s start being his second of the season. The goal was also his first and potentially the most important of his young career. The performance ended New York’s four game winless streak and kick-started the Red Bulls’ sputtering offense. Whether this means Muyl will become the starter next to Wright-Phillips or on the wing remains to be seen.
“It’s taken a while for me to really get comfortable,” Muyl said. “I’m still working on it, it’s still a process but for young players, obviously it’s never easy. You never want to let the older guys down but once you get through that it’s a learning curve and it just opens up the rest of it.”
New York has pushed its homegrown players as the future of the club with Muyl in the spotlight. Starting with the USL club in 2016, he quickly made the move to the senior team, replacing Lloyd Sam in the middle of the season. Marsch has spokend about Muyl’s athleticism and speed but pushed for him to improve in front of goal. D.C. United presented the perfect situation for the youngster and he delivered when the team needed it most.
“Right now our homegrowns aren’t just guys that we have on the roster because they’re homegrowns,” Marsch said. “They’re guys that we think have big futures at this club and potentially beyond. I think that our USL team is a clear conduit between the academy and our first team. Our USL team and our first team and our academy team all play similar. There’s a similar style and I think that we’re showing as a first team that we’ve invested in homegrowns players.”