Red Bulls’ Lade: Big Bite in a Small Package

Matt Kremkau

by ANTHONY J. MERCED

Connor Lade was on top of the world on Aug. 7, 2016, playing some of the best soccer in his career. After years of fighting for a place in a star-studded line-up his time had come under Jesse Marsch, a coach looking for youth and pace. He was making his 18th appearance of the season only to have an knee injury ruin it. He was sidelined and wouldn’t return for seven months.

“I kind of just wanted to get out there and not really think about it,” Lade said after playing 61 minutes in a 0-0 draw against Real Salt Lake on Saturday. “I just tried to get into the game, complete that final pass, that first tackle, and just get back into the swing of things, and I thought it was good to knock off some of that rust tonight.”

His return couldn’t have gone better for the 27-year old right back. Lade’s defense was on point, giving New York a sense of stability on the wings that they’ve lacked, while not sacrificing the offensive threat the team was able to produce early in the season with Sal Zizzo. Lade looked sharp and while he admitted he was rusty, he appeared as close to midseason form as anyone on the team.

“It was time to get Connor going and I thought he was fantastic,” Marsch said. “I thought in the first half he was our best player. He got a little fatigued in the second half, but we’re going to continue to build on that performance for him.”

There was a question whether Lade would even be with the team. He made appearances with New York Red Bull II as they rounded out their preseason and was even announced as a loanee to the USL team on Thursday. Lade didn’t make the trip to Pittsburgh with the Baby Bulls and started in place of Zizzo at right back against RSL. His performance, while not perfect, showed that he may have been the option the team was thinking of when they let Chris Duvall move on to Montreal.

Matt Kremkau

Coach Jesse Marsch

“Jesse marked this down on the calendar,” Lade said. “With the international break and maybe missing some guys, this could be the game where if I was feeling up to it, I could kind of be in the selection for starting, but definitely in the 18. I’m just happy it worked out tonight that I could get the start.”

Lade is the epitome of homegrown talent. He played with the Red Bull Academy in 2007 and at St. John’s University in 2008. Just three years later, Lade signed a homegrown player contract with the Red Bulls, making his professional debut against the San Jose Earthquakes on May 29, 2012. That year he made 22 starts and appeared to be a first choice defender. That changed as soon as Hans Backe left the team.

For the next two seasons Lade found himself on the outside looking in. With a combined 11 appearances and only two starts, it appeared that Lade was on his way out. But Marsch had other plans, deciding to take the leap of faith with the talent from the academy and giving Lade a chance to prove his worth.

“I’ve been doing more fitness in the last seven months than I have ever wanted to do in my life,” Lade said. “Still, you can’t replicate game fitness, and it was the longest I played in a while, so overall, it felt good.”