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‘Everybody loves Connor:’ Lade’s contribution appreciated in Red Bulls locker room

Apr 27, 2019; Harrison, NJ, USA; New York Red Bulls defender Connor Lade (5) in action during the second half against the FC Cincinnati at Red Bull Arena. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

HARRISON, N.J. — Danny Royer isn’t one to play favorites. The New York Red Bulls winger wants all this teammates to play well and to contribute to wins.

But, if there’s one player he wishes that for above the rest, it’s Connor Lade.

“I want everyone to have a great performance. And I want everyone to have complete performances as a team to win a game,” Royer told Pro Soccer USA. “But honestly, there is no person that I want more to have a great performance than Connor. He’s amazing. He puts so much effort into this team, every day, every week.”

Royer was not alone in the Red Bulls’ locker room with that sentiment. It was unanimous among the players who spoke to the media after Lade scored the lone goal in a critical victory over FC Cincinnati Saturday night at Red Bull Arena.

With apologies to Ray Romano’s television show, everybody loves Connor.

“He’s the best. Definitely one of the best teammates I’ve ever had,” Luis Robles said. “And he’s just a great guy. He’s a great dad, he’s a great husband, you can’t say enough about him. And then when a moment like this happens, everyone on the field, on the bench and in the stadium is happy for him because he deserves moments like this, the way that he sacrifices for this team. He’s a real leader. He’s a real team player. I just love the guy.”

Lade’s effort is usually behind the scenes, the kind of things teammates and coaches appreciate, but don’t make the highlights. He wins his aerial duels despite being undersized. He played as a left wingback Saturday night as a player who is naturally right-footed. His sacrifice for the team is a big reason why he’s the Red Bulls longest tenured player, signed in Dec. 2011.

“The ultimate compliment to Connor Lade is that he’s the best teammate you could possibly have,” midfielder Sean Davis said. “He’s a guy that shows up with positive energy day in and day out, regardless of the situation, regardless of whether he’s playing, regardless of whether the team’s winning. He’s just a guy that you can always count on and trust and that’s very important in the locker room and especially in a club like ours.”

Lade enjoyed the moment, celebrating a special left-footed strike to cap a strong buildup first with his teammates immediately after the goal and then again after the final whistle with his daughter Avery and then he joked about his handful of professional goals — two in MLS play, two in the U.S. Open Cup and one in the Concacaf Champions League.

“Obviously, this is my hometown club I grew up supporting,” said Lade, who grew up and still lives in Morristown, N.J. “I was in those seats before I was playing on the field so it’s means a lot to me for sure to put on that shirt every game. I don’t take that for granted.”

Formation, lineup changes pay dividends

The change in formation Saturday night, from the usual 4-2-3-1 to a 3-3-3-1 had more to do with how FC Cincinnati plays with their two blocks of four. The different personnel on the field was about igniting a spark for a team that desperately needed a win.

Coach Chris Armas made four changes to his starting XI from the squad that lost to the New England Revolution a week earlier. With Bradley Wright-Phillips suffering a “soft tissue [strain] in his groin,” according to Armas, hard-working Brian White was given the nod at forward. Amro Tarek entered in the three-back setup, Omir Fernandez featured as the No. 10 and Alex Muyl returned from an ankle sprain to play right wingback.

Muyl started in favor of Michael Murillo, who came on as a late substitute.

He understands how we play. He has certain qualities with the ball that showed up tonight,” Armas said of Muyl. “His tactical understanding of what was going to be required tonight; the engine required on the night, but yeah, sometimes wide, sometimes rotating interior alongside Sean Davis. But I think what makes Alex maybe different and special for us is his will to win.”

By the numbers

The Red Bulls win was their 100th at Red Bull Arena since the building opened in 2010. It was also Aaron Long’s 100th appearance in all competitions.

Robles made one save to earn his first clean sheet of the season and 64th all-time, which ties him with Pat Onstad for eighth all-time in MLS history.

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