HANOVER, N.J. — There are three players on the New York Red Bulls who have scored more goals than Derrick Etienne this season. But it could be argued no one scored a bigger goal.
In many ways, it was also fitting, given the Red Bulls’ philosophy of developing young players and promoting from within, that a former academy player who worked his way up the club’s ladder scored the decisive goal.
Etienne was one of four Homegrown players in the starting XI on Sunday and one of six to record a goal or an assist in this record-breaking season that saw the Red Bulls break an MLS single-season record for wins (22) and points (71).
“It’s been shown throughout the last two years how much we put into developing young players and giving them opportunities,” Etienne told Pro Soccer USA after training Tuesday.
Etienne’s first MLS goal came against the Lions in a 4-3 loss at Orlando City Stadium in March. That will forever be forged in his mind. The same is true of the winner on Sunday, his fifth of the season.
“It’s definitely something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life, being able to say I was able to help solidify a win to get Supporters’ Shield,” he said.
Etienne was part of the Red Bulls organization for the first two Supporters’ Shields. In 2013, he was a 13-year-old in the academy. Two years later, he was part of Red Bulls II in the USL.
“It’s kind of surreal to look at the steps and go from academy guy on the outside, then to being someone known within the grow to now being able to contribute,” Etienne said. “It shows the progress in the last six years.”
When Etienne learned he’d be in the starting XI against Orlando, his ninth start of the season, his goal was to score in the game. After his first-half penalty kick was saved, the 21-year-old Haitian forward wanted to make up for that.
That chance materialized in the 53rd minute when he received a pass from Michael Amir Murillo from the touchline into space. Etienne continued an angled run toward the box before accelerating and turning toward goal and past Yoshi Yotun. A step-over as he entered the 18-yard box was followed by a cutback to shed central defender Shane O’Neill.
Etienne saw Bradley Wright-Phillips pump the brakes and take a step backward in anticipation of a pass. But Etienne had redemption on his brain and slipped a low shot off the right arm of Orlando goalkeeper Adam Grinwis and inside the far post.
“In my mind I was just thinking you need to rectify your mistake, you need to help the team in any way you can,” he said.
It was the latest of a long list of examples of players who have come up through the ranks, whether its the Red Bulls academy or Red Bull II or both, to make a difference in a season that is the best in the club’s history.
Some teams have flashy stars, world renowned Designated Players, including teams whose seasons ended on Sunday. But for the Red Bulls, the system is the star and a big part are the young kids who work their way up, from Tyler Adams to Sean Davis to Alex Muyl to Etienne and beyond.
“[The philosophy] ends up being the biggest playmaker, we believe,” Armas said. “It’s another example of that.”
According to Etienne, that’s not ending any time soon.
“I think you look at the way the tide has turned with the organization, you’re going to see a lot more young guys be able to come through the academy and the different pathways and get into the first team and bring success to the club,” he said.