It didn't take long for Luke Sassano to have his "Welcome to MLS" moment Saturday night at Giants Stadium.
"Right before kickoff I kind of looked around and thought 'this is a dream since I was a little kid,'" the midfielder from Orinda, Calif. said. "And then I was like, 'Now, we're done, back to business.'"
This time last year, Sassano was playing for University of California at Berkeley in its spring exhibition season. But on Saturday he was starting for the New York Red Bulls in the team's season opener against the Columbus Crew.
"You think about it for one second and then you put it behind you," Sassano said. "You have to keep that at bay, realize you're playing soccer and there's 22 guys on the field. It's just like playing in practice, but a little more intense and a couple thousand people out there."
Because of injuries to Dane Richards (torn knee ligament) and Hunter Freeman (sprained ankle), Sassano got the nod on the right side of midfield and played the entire 90 minutes to mixed results.
"I like getting up and down the flank. Today, offensively, it wasn't really working for me," said Sassano, who was selected in the third round of the 2008 SuperDraft. "I just made sure I stuck defensively with my assignment and made sure I didn't let guys get in behind me and just kind of help out the team."
Because of a tactical substitution, the Red Bulls had rookies on both flanks in the second half with Danleigh Borman, a South African who was selected in the first round of the 2008 Supplemental Draft out of the University of Rhode Island, playing on the left.
"I think I have to give some credit to the team because I don't see that happening in many other teams in MLS at the moment," Red Bulls coach Juan Carlos Osorio said. "We bring them in, we believe in what they can do and I think that Danleigh will be better and we'll give him a good run for that position."
And with Jozy Altidore ruled out with a bruised knee, Osorio went with another first-year player up front, teaming speedy Oscar Echeverry with fellow Colombian Juan Pablo Angel.
Echeverry, who played for Atletico Nacional in his homeland for the last three years, admitted to being nervous before his Red Bulls debut. But his nerves were calmed when Dave van den Bergh struck for the quickest goal in club history after just 47 seconds.
"I felt very, very set in my play after the first goal," he said through a translator. "I started getting very comfortable as the minutes went on. After that first goal, I felt a sigh of relief."
Echeverry's pace set up scoring chances for himself and teammates. In the fifth minute, he had a shot saved by Columbus goalkeeper Will Hesmer, who also denied the rookie forward in the 21st minute, parrying his rebound attempt over the crossbar for a corner kick.
"He did very well, he was aggressive," Claudio Reyna said of Echeverry. "He had some chances on goal as well, which you want as a forward. He worked very hard."
' Echeverry was also pulled down inside the box by Danny O'Rourke, resulting in a 52nd-minute penalty kick by Angel, which Hesmer also saved.
"I experience that a lot because I like cutting through the defense and once I'm cutting through, I'm bound to get hit," Echeverry said.
Echeverry's evening ended in the 71st minute when he was replaced by veteran John Wolyniec.
"I did say when I brought Oscar in that he would be a player that would stretch the teams and we can find that space in between the lines and I think that's what happened," Osorio said. "He's a handful, a different kind of striker really."
Dylan Butler is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.