Designated Players are brought into Major League Soccer teams to produce, often in a buccaneering manner in the final third.
That expectation met reality for New York Red Bulls midfielder Luquinhas on Saturday evening at Subaru Park, as his 66th-minute equalizer saved a 1-1 draw with the Philadelphia Union after defender Dylan Nealis was shown a red card 11 minutes prior.
The performance left manager Gerhard Struber saying their Brazilian maestro is on an “outstanding level” and his dribbling ability is “from a different planet.” High praise indeed.
“We integrated him very quick and in a very good direction,” Struber said. “I think he feels the family feeling in my group, and this helps him to bring performances on this level, and he grows. I think we are not right now on the finish point of his performance. I think he grows; we always bring him in interesting spots, and in the end … right now he's also sexy when he has a chance to finish.”
Luquinhas’ well-taken goal, set up by Cameron Harper’s first MLS assist, came on the heels of a 1g/1a performance in the US Open Cup at D.C. United that booked a Round of 16 ticket. He’s now gotten on the scoresheet in five of their last six games across all competitions.
The 25-year-old signed with RBNY in mid-February from Polish side Legia Warsaw, having been named the 2020-21 Ekstraklasa Midfielder of the Season. It’s still early days in his MLS career, all things considered, but he’s carving out a key role as their second DP alongside striker Patryk Klimala.
“I think when you look [at] his body language, when you look [at] his responsibility what he takes; how successful he is in on-ball moments,” Struber said of what’s impressed him. “And on the same time, he never forgets his work against the ball and we can see what tackles he has, how he works back, how he sprints back. I think in every direction, he is a big win for this club and a big win for my team.”
Luquinhas’ efforts moved RBNY to six games unbeaten (5W-0L-1D) on the road this season, a remarkable stretch for a club that’s made 12 straight Audi MLS Cup Playoff appearances. They nearly allowed a late winner from Union striker Julian Carranza, but that was negated for offside following Video Review.
“I think we showed great mental willpower today, especially when things didn’t go our way,” center back Sean Nealis said. “ … We responded well after the red card, and we got a lot of guys that have a lot of fight in them, and I think we displayed that greatly today. I think it’ll only help us grow as players and people throughout the year and that was a hard-fought point.”
The Red Bulls now sit fifth in the Eastern Conference standings, though are just one point removed from the top spot.
“My boys are so ready to fight and with the headline, ‘never give up,’” Struber said. “You can feel this from the coaching zone, and this is I think one of the most important things in professional sport.”