HARRISON, N.J. – Marc Rzatkowski hadn’t started for the New York Red Bulls since April 21 but the midfielder stated his case for greater playing time on Saturday night, his two goals as a second half substitute spurring his team to a 3-2 win over Sporting Kansas City. Some banana chips, bought on a whim before the game, just might be the reason why.
The brace from Rzatkowski included a 79th minute wonder goal, as the German-born midfielder took one touch off a Sean Davis feed and then fired a 20-yard shot past Tim Melia, the Sporting goalkeeper just getting his fingertips on the shot. In a season of ups and downs for Rzatkowski, it was a bit of a statement performance.
In his previous four matches, Rzatkowski had a combined 51 minutes as a substitute and twice didn’t leave the bench. Saying that the performance “means a lot for me,” Rzatkowski was serenaded by teammate Derrick Etienne Jr. as he began to address the media, causing the Red Bulls midfielder to break into a huge smile.
“For sure, there were a lot of ups and downs in the season for me. I think I’ve played good games but also things when I was injured was not coming into my game,” Rzatkowski said following the match.
“So, yea, I wanted to show what I can. I know what I can [do] so I’m really glad that I can show it today.”
Despite the lack of playing time, Rzatkowski said he never doubted wanting to stay in New York, this as he is on a season-long loan from sister club Red Bull Salzburg in the Austrian Bundesliga. Injuries and a lack of playing time never slowed down his desire to stay and make this work.
Coming off a 1-0 loss at Yankee Stadium to rival New York City FC on Sunday, the Red Bulls were down 2-1 midway through the second half, an outstanding Roger Espinoza free kick a few minutes after halftime the difference at that point. But the insertion of Rzatkowski for Alejandro “Kaku” Romero Gamarra at the mid-point of the second half was a turning point as Tyler Adams pushed up into the attacking midfield position.
All three second half substitutes made by Chris Armas, now in his second game as head coach after replacing Jesse Marsch, made an impact. The moves came a bit earlier in the match than his predecessor would often go to the bench. In his first game in charge, last week's loss to NYCFC, Armas only made one substitute, and that move came just minutes before stoppage time.
“Tonight's demands were different from last time and the next game will be different from this one. As a staff, we'll always look at what does the game need. We'll do our best to try to figure out what it needs and who it needs and when it is needed,” Armas said.
“So if we're just talking about this game, on a hot night – and that's only part of it. But I think that we knew there was guys that had great weeks of training and we knew come into it, would help the game tonight. It was what the game needed, and it needed it earlier than later.”
Playing as a creative midfielder, Adams played several nice balls and assisted on Rzatkowski’s first goal in the 70th minute. Then nine minutes later, Rzatkowski hit his bomb that sent Red Bull Arena into a frenzy and gave the home team three points.
There was an outpouring of emotion as Rzatkowski’s teammates mobbed him, the second half substitute showing joy in the moment. Through the ups and downs of this first year in MLS, Rzatkowski has never let his attitude dip, with Armas noting that the player “had a great week of training.”
“This guy’s attitude has been fantastic and he’s been a great teammate. It’s not easy, I try to put myself in his shoes and he’s coming over from Europe to a new team, to a new country where maybe he’s not playing as much as he wants to,” Davis said.
“I’m so impressed with his attitude, his work ethic every day. He’s positive, he’s energetic and so, you know, maybe inside he’s feeling a different way but he never shows it. Tonight is totally deserved for him.”
And with his form, there might be a new pregame ritual in the mix for Rzatkowski.
Prior to the game, he stopped at a store and for the first time bought a small pack of banana chips as a snack. He had some before the game and then popped a few more chips at halftime.
Perhaps Armas and the rest of the coaching staff will be buying Rzatkowski a case prior to next weekend’s game.
“I never had them before,” Rzatkowski said. “Maybe I need to get some for next week too.”