Confidence key as Connor Lade carves out bigger role with New York Red Bulls

HARRISON, N.J. – Connor Lade was injected with a big boost of confidence this past weekend, and it could not have come at a much better time for the versatile youngster.

With teammates Roy Miller and Heath Pearce unavailable, Lade looks poised for a string of starts at left back for the New York Red Bulls after spending the majority of the season on the bench. Lade – who has been deeply mired in a sophomore slump after a strong rookie campaign – earned his first league start of the year in Sunday’s 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo.

Afterwards he earned rave reviews from his teammates and head coach for helping the Red Bulls post a clean sheet en route to picking up an important three points.

WATCH: Sit-down with Lade (Aug. 2012)

New York Red Bulls 2, Houston Dynamo 0 | MLS Match Recap

“You have to give him a lot of credit,” Thierry Henry told reporters after the match. “It’s never easy to come into a game like this, especially when we were losing two in a row, we conceded some goals and we didn’t score for the last game, so it was very important that he showed what he showed today. Like always, great attitude, great commitment.”

Lade provided his usual hustle and tenacity in defense against physically gifted opponents like Giles Barnes and Warren Creavalle. But the 23-year-old, who is expected to start in Thursday’s road game against the Colorado Rapids, was admittedly sloppy with some of his passing, especially in the early going.

Still, Lade being able to deliver an overall solid performance in his first start of the season was a testament to his character and the result of an extensive conversation he had with head coach Mike Petke just days earlier.

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“I was very blunt with him because he knows I care about him and I want to see him succeed, I think it’s important for someone like Connor to succeed here,” said Petke in his postgame press conference. “But I’m not going to play him just because he is a Homegrown player, or just because he’s a local boy or just because he had a very good year last year. He has to earn it.

“It’s never been a question of his work ethic, it’s his decision-making and he knows that, and he earned the start over the last couple of days with how he played in practice.”

Lade had a harder time pinpointing the reason for his early-season struggles after the game, but he did hint at fatigue playing a part. Lade spent a chunk of the offseason on a training stint with Sevilla and in a lengthy camp with the US national team.

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Regardless of the reason, Lade is eager to put his troubles behind him and he should have a big opportunity to do so during these next few weeks.

“Every time you come back you’ve got to be prepared and maybe I was just a little bit behind," Lade said. "So I’m just working at it, to try and reclaim my form and get back into a starting spot.”

Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by e-mail at Franco8813@gmail.com.