The Call Up

John Tolkin cherishes "surreal" rise through the New York Red Bulls

John Tolkin has witnessed several big moments at Red Bull Arena – from his time as a ballboy to an aspiring professional in the club’s academy.

The stadium hosts another big game tonight (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+) with the New York Red Bulls needing a win over rival Atlanta United to clinch a berth in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.

And Tolkin has a chance to play a big role.

The 19-year-old homegrown will likely be in the Red Bulls starting XI, especially since Andrew Gutman, the club’s other option at left wingback, is on loan from Atlanta and ineligible to play.

It’s yet another chance for the New Jersey native to shine in front of those closest to him.

“It’s just surreal to be with all these guys, playing in the stadium now playing in front of my friends and family,” Tolkin said on the latest episode of The Call Up. “Obviously I have my old club team, Ironbound, all of them always come and support me too. Everything’s been amazing so far.”

What’s also been surreal for Tolkin, who has started 20 of the 26 matches he's appeared in this year, has been playing with, and against, players he watched from the seats at Red Bull Arena.

Tolkin said he brought up a former postseason match against the Columbus Crew with veteran Danny Royer, who was pleasantly surprised Tolkin was in the stands that day.

And earlier this season, Tolkin was a bit star-struck when lining up in the tunnel alongside Nashville SC midfielder Dax McCarty, the first first-team player he met when he joined the Red Bulls Academy.

“I don't have the picture anymore,” Tolkin said. “I was going to go up to him after the game, I don’t know if he remembers me or anything, but it was pretty cool for me. At the same time, I was like we’re playing against them and we have to win so it’s cool, but it’s not cool.”

To hear more from Tolkin, including some Hudson River Derby thoughts and a surprise on Halloween, check out The Call Up's latest episode.