HARRISON, N.J.—Prior to the start of the season, New York Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch talked about a need he saw across MLS for coaches to play young players, in particular young Americans from academies.
A first half goal by 17-year old Ben Mines secured the three points, the Homegrown teenager becoming the third-youngest player in franchise history to score a goal. A product of the team’s academy system, Mines earned the first start of his MLS career on Saturday night, his 18th-minute goal staking the Red Bulls to an early lead for a team that prominently featured young players and reserves in the starting XI.
Nine starters from last week’s Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal first leg victory over Tijuana were missing. It was a clear, if risky, decision by the Red Bulls head coach to rest his starters in an attempt to keep them fresh ahead of Tuesday’s home leg against Tijuana.
“I think obviously a very good performance, and I think the part that I'm happiest with is the fact that we played like us, we looked like us," Marsch said. “There were different names on the back of the jerseys, but that looked like our team. That's always our goal. So even if you don't get the result on the day, you know, it's so important that our team plays the way that we want to play.
“And then obviously, when you have so many young talented players that you can supplement into the team, it's exciting to see. I think it should be exciting for the fans. It's certainly exciting internally, and we know that these guys all have bright futures. So you know, when I'm watching the game, I'm almost thinking to myself, man, it's going to be a tough job for me this year to keep everybody moving forward in a way that honors where they are at.”
The only holdovers from the victory in Mexico were goalkeeper Luis Robles and midfielder Sean Davis, who won’t play this Tuesday night due to a yellow card accumulation. But it was the play of Mines and his fellow newcomers, such as touted debutant Alejandro "Kaku" Romero Gamarra and right back Kyle Duncan – also a former Red Bulls academy player, that kept the team's level on par.
For the past two seasons, Mines has toiled with USL affiliate New York Red Bulls II, showing creativity and composure on the ball. It was noticed.
Marsch said that Mines stood out in preseason and anticipated as early as last week that the player would get a start in this match, given the squad rotation due to the Champions League. Mines admitted that on Saturday morning, he was practicing goal celebrations in his bedroom.
On the field, he celebrated by making a phone gesture with his hand and lifting it to his head, as if making a call. “I didn’t know what to do to be honest. I was excited, so happy, thought of everyone who has helped me get to this moment and kind of did my celebration and went on with the game,” Mines said.
“My mom and dad were both here tonight. My celebration was actually for my mom – she always calls me before every game – texts or whatever. She’s always been there for me. I’m truly grateful.”
Mines walked out of the locker room with the ball from his goal tucked underneath his right arm. He said that the memento was going to be a gift to his mother.