HARRISON, N.J. – Since being selected in the Supplemental Draft by the New York Red Bulls back in January, Michael Bustamante has been busy biding his time in practice with the hopes that he would eventually get a chance to prove his worth in a game.
He earned that chance this past weekend and made the most of it.
Receiving his first professional start on Saturday, Bustamante put forth a solid outing in the Red Bulls’ 2-0 home victory over Toronto FC. The rookie midfielder helped mitigate the absence of injured Designated Player Tim Cahill by aiding Dax McCarty in the center of the park and also had the secondary assist on Thierry Henry’s game-winning goal in the first half.
Bustamante was not overly impressive during his 89-minute shift, but he earned positive reviews from his head coach and teammates afterwards due to the fact that he was thrust into a starting role on short notice after midfielder Lloyd Sam was ruled out with an injury last Friday.
“The story of the game for me was how Bustamante played,” said Henry. “You have to give him credit because it’s not always easy to be on the side all the season and play in the reserves some times when they do have some games and try to stay fit and just try to be on the side with the guys [saying], ‘Well done.’ But definitely, not participating is not easy and then suddenly you’ve got to play.
“I thought at times he played pretty well. Dax had a great awareness on the goal but that first pass that [Bustamante] played was vital, so you have to give him credit for that because I know when you feel like you’re not part of the team because you’re not often in the squad, but great attitude, great performance for me from his part.”
Playing in front of his wife and 17,235 other spectators in attendance, Bustamante had to shake off some early nerves and a few errant passes before settling into the match at Red Bull Arena.
Once that happened, the 23-year-old Colombian and McCarty helped stymie a Toronto FC side that enjoyed its share of possession but never really challenged the Red Bulls backline.
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“At the beginning, it’s hard to adapt to the pact of the game, but as the game went on, both teams got a little bit more tired and it was a little easier to handle the ball,” said Bustamante. “My teammates did a great job of moving for me and making it comfortable for me.”
Bustamante was also involved in one of the more comical moments of the match. After Bustamante fouled Álvaro Rey on a speedy counterattack in the 44th minute, referee Edvin Jurisevic went to his pocket to caution the former Boston Univeristy player, but accidentally pulled out a red card before correctly showing a yellow.
“I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it,” said Bustamante, whose face said it all during the moment in which the red card came out. “I knew he had to be joking because it wasn’t that hard of a challenge, but thank God he composed himself and put that thing away.”
With Cahill inching closer to full health, Bustamante is likely to revert back to the bench this week. Still, Bustamante showed Saturday that he can be more than serviceable should his number be called again.
“I think it’s important to show faith in the young guys,” said Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke. “Michael is a draft pick of ours and he’s worked hard all year, he’s a great professional, he’s coming along. We said, ‘This is a game that I’d like to see him in.’
“I think aside from the first 10-15 minutes, I think he did very well. I’m happy with what he did.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com.