New York Red Bulls find great fit for inconsistent forward Peguy Luyindula in central midfield

HARRISON, N.J. – To borrow one of Mike Petke’s buzzwords, Péguy Luyindula’s performance on Sunday was “phenomenal,” even if it was a bit overlooked.

Luyindula shone for the New York Red Bulls for the second straight week in a starting central midfield role on Sunday, delivering a hat trick of assists as the club knocked off the Chicago Fire, 5-2, to claim their first piece of hardware in front of a capacity crowd at Red Bull Arena.

The veteran admittedly enjoyed his finest performance of the season in that Supporters’ Shield-clinching victory and it should give him plenty of confidence as the team moves into the playoffs. No, Luyindula is unlikely to have locked down a starting spot with the Red Bulls based off his recent showings, but the second half of Sunday’s memorable match demonstrated that he can serve as a situational playmaker, deployed to pull the strings when the Red Bulls need offense or a different dimension in their attack.

“Over the last three, four weeks in practice, Péguy has been consistently the best player,” Petke told reporters after the match. “He has really retooled certain things and he knows we’re looking at him as more of a midfielder because of his ability to hold the ball for us and his vision. I think his days as a forward, it’s a very different league here than what he’s used to, and I think he’s so comfortable on the ball, his vision is so good.”

For Luyindula, playing in a central midfield role these past few weeks has simply been more going to “back to basics” than reinventing himself. The Zaire-born attacker grew up playing that position before being converted to a forward, where he found success in France but struggled with his finishing during much of the current campaign.

The familiarity with that role would explain why it seemed so natural to him to play the inch-perfect aerial ball that Thierry Henry brought down and rifled home for the crucial equalizer in the 24th minute of Sunday’s regular-season finale, and why Luyindula also repeatedly was able to turn on his opponents and hit defense-splitting passes.

“I’m a soccer player," he told reporters postgame. "I love football. I like to play football everywhere, every part of the field. I was formed as a midfielder when I was young, so it’s just back to basics, you can say, and it’s a great feeling for me to give goals for my partners and to hold the ball for them when they were busy or a little bit tired.

“I can do it. I know I can do it. I know that I can pass and I know that I can score. I would kind of think that I did good today.”

Luyindula did fare well against the Fire, but only after overcoming a subpar first half. The 34-year-old Frenchman was heavily involved in the action but off the mark with his shooting and passing before becoming sharper in a second stanza that saw him assist on Lloyd Sam’s stellar game-winner and Eric Alexander’s insurance tally.

The momentous occasion that was the Red Bulls winning the Supporters’ Shield overshadowed Luyindula’s game and rightfully so after 18 years of trophy-less soccer for the club, but that still does not take away from the fact that the Red Bulls have found a good fit for another weapon they can use at their disposal during their upcoming playoff run.

“I don’t know who his coaches were in France, but that guy is a central midfielder, man,” said central midfield partner Dax McCarty. “He’s a brilliant player and we saw it in practice. I think you maybe see him up front and he doesn’t do too well on a couple of chances to finish some goals and everyone gives him a hard time, but in training we see, ‘Man, this guy is an amazing player.’

“For me, playing in the middle with him is an honor. It gives me an outlet, it gives me a guy that’s capable of holding the ball. He brings something a little bit different than anyone else on our team and he’s a guy that’s a little more attacking [minded] than any of our other midfielders we have. To have a guy like him be able to switch things up and contribute the way he did, it was an amazing performance by him.”

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