HARRISON, N.J. — After partnering with Cristian Cásseres during his impressive MLS debut for the New York Red Bulls 1-0 win over the Houston Dynamo Wednesday night at Red Bull Arena, Tyler Adams said it was “the start of something” between the two young central midfielders.
In reality, Red Bulls fans might just have caught a glimpse of the player who will fill Adams’ spot should his long-rumored move to Red Bull Leipzig come to fruition at the end of the 2018 MLS season.
As part of a heavy squad rotation in the middle of a congested schedule, Cásseres started alongside Adams, a move that pushed Sean Davis up to the No. 10 role. There was nothing about Cásseres’ performance that screamed “MLS debut.”
“He plays beyond his years,” Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said. “He’s comfortable on the ball, plays against the ball, covers ground to the end of the game. If I said in the locker room, put your cleats back on, we’ve got another 30, he would do it. He’s easy to love, this kid. It’s infectious.”
The 18-year-old, who on Friday was called into Venezuela’s under-20 side for the first time, showed fearlessness on both sides of the ball. He had an early sniff at goal in the 14th minute, settling an attempted clearance outside the box, but fired over the crossbar.
And late in the match, with the Red Bulls clinging to a one-goal lead, Cásseres made a great recovery run and slid to block a shot by Mauro Manotas, who spun free of Tim Parker and raced into the box.
“Playing with Tyler and Cristian together is like a cheat code,” Red Bulls captain Luis Robles said. “Honestly, these guys cover so much ground. They’re up the field, they’re back, counter-pressing, winning second balls. It was really a joy to see both of these guys play.”
After transferring from Deportivo La Guaira in his native Venezuela in early February, Cásseres dreamed of first-team minutes with his new club. But his progress was slowed by injuries, and opportunities centrally in the Red Bulls midfield were limited because of solid play from the Adams-Davis-Kaku combination.
So, Cásseres went to work with Red Bulls II in the United Soccer League. Alternating between the No. 6 and No. 8 positions, Cásseres started 16 of the 22 matches he played, scoring three goals and adding two assists.
That hard work wasn’t limited to the training ground and match days.
“He’s the first guy at English class,” Armas said. “He’s learning, teacher says he’s attentive all the time, and the development and the learning, it’s rapid.”
Armas saw Wednesday night’s match as the perfect chance to not only reward Cásseres’ hard work, but also to give Kaku a needed rest. Outside of that early miss, which would have made it a dream debut, Cásseres couldn’t have asked more from the first of what could be many MLS appearances.
“That’s what I wanted, to make my debut,” Cásseres said through a translator. “I hadn’t been able to because of the injuries. I hadn’t been able to get my rhythm as quickly as I wanted. But now that I’ve gotten some games in me, thankfully I was able to pick up my rhythm. I felt excellent today, I felt great today and my form was great and I was able to make my debut.”