When the New York Red Bulls met Eastern Conference rival Atlanta United at IMG Academy in Bradenton Friday morning, it was the first time the team stepped on the field against Major League Soccer opposition since the disappointing end of the 2019 season.
It’s been even longer for Florian Valot.
That was his second straight season cut short by the same injury. In 2018, Valot was off to a bright start with three goals and five assists in 13 starts before an ACL tear in his left knee resulted in season-ending surgery.
So while Valot’s goal in minute 7 of the first of three 30-minute periods Friday won’t be included in his 2020 stats, don’t think it didn’t mean something to a player who has worked so hard to get back on the field.
“It’s been good, good to be back with the team practicing,” Valot said after the scrimmage. “I think I’ve waited a little too long for that. It’s good. I think we have a good group this year. I’m kind of excited to be back there. Now I want to build it up until the first game of the season.”
Because Valot played in just two games last season, Red Bulls coach Chris Armas considers him almost like a new signing this year.
“He was training with us regularly at the end of ’19, and now he looks stronger than even then because he’s had a productive offseason,” Armas told reporters in a conference call Thursday. “What we see now from ‘Flo’ is a really exciting player. It feels like a new signing.”
Valot is important to what the Red Bulls want to do because Armas said he brings something different than anyone else on the roster.
“We know that he’s an attacker that not only can play against the ball, because he can press and he can counter press and he’s actually really good at that,” Armas said. “But he has a real intelligence in that part of the field, the way that Kaku can operate, the way Sacha Kljestan used to operate in that part of the field.”
And that’s what he did Friday against an Atlanta team preparing to compete in the Concacaf Champions League. His goal came off a counter-pressing moment, a good run by Brian White, a quality pass from Danny Royer.
Valot took a first touch and then fired past Brad Guzan.
“He brings a real intelligence and is one of the guys that their strength is to make guys around him better,” Armas said. “And that’s what he does.”