UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Austin da Luz wasn’t sure why there was a media request to speak with him following Tuesday’s practice at the Red Bulls training facility at Montclair State University.
“Are you guys running low on story ideas now that the season is coming near an end?” the rookie midfielder joked as he entered the media room.
Well, if da Luz had been able to watch himself practice over the past few weeks, he’d know why there was an interest.
A first round pick in this year’s MLS Draft, da Luz had an impressive showing in pre-season, where observers noted his soft touch on the ball and confidence with the dribble. However, a knee injury sidelined him and a subsequent injury to the fifth metatarsal on the outside of his left foot kept him out of action for much of the early part of the season.
“It was tough, very frustrating to get that injury,” da Luz said. “It seemed like I had some momentum, like things were going well in pre-season and I was getting my chances and performing well. Then the injury came and it was a setback.”
But he’s back now and is beginning to show the promise that made him a first-round choice.
Da Luz returned to training during the World Cup break, hitting the field hard to regain fitness. For the last couple of months, he’s been slowly working himself into shape in practice, first with drills and then in training matches.
Though he terms himself as a “left-sided player who likes to tuck in centrally and be a playmaker,” he’s as feisty as a finesse player comes in this league. More than once he’s gotten a look after a challenge on a 50-50 ball.
“I feel like my work ethic, it’s gone to another level,” da Luz said. “Here in MLS, you have to challenge everything.”
With the Red Bulls having clinched a playoff berth, the next few games—including Saturday afternoon's home match against Real Salt Lake—afford the rookie the chance to make a statement for some playing time. This franchise has lacked a consistent left winger since Mark Chung manned that side nearly a decade ago.
“Over the next few games, perhaps some regulars will be rested,” da Luz said. “We’ve had a real good run right now, a good thing going on, so you don’t want to make too many changes. But if we were to rest someone, I think that you want to make that statement for some playing time.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012.