UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Austin da Luz was the bridesmaid of the New York Red Bulls last season.
Twice during his rookie season, he stood at midfield, ready to enter a game and make his MLS debut. But both times his dream was interrupted by a referee’s whistle, signaling the end of the match and the cue for the downtrodden da Luz just to shake hands and walk away.
Last Saturday afternoon in Vancouver, it nearly happened to da Luz again.
Standing on the sidelines at the 69th minute, da Luz was set to check into the match for forward Luke Rodgers, a move which would have moved Juan Agudelo from the left wing to his more natural position up top. But just as da Luz was set to go in, right back Carlos Mendes went down onto the turf.
The veteran defender limped off the field and the television cameras briefly caught da Luz on the sidelines, looking confused.
“I wasn’t sure if I was set to go in or not since Carlos went down,” the 23-year-old da Luz told MLSsoccer.com. “I knew I’d probably still be going in at some point, just wasn’t sure when.”
Within a few moments, the Red Bulls coaching staff slotted Matt Kassel into the right back position. But they kept the da Luz substitution as planned.
“I thought I was close to getting in a couple times last year but it didn’t happen,” da Luz said. “I never doubted. I just wanted to keep working hard, and I’m glad it happened on Saturday.”
Da Luz’s family was actually visiting New York City during the Vancouver match and they caught his debut on television. The Wake Forest alum's cell phone blew up with texts and calls after the game, each one congratulating him on the long-awaited debut.
“It was a good start, I was pleased I didn’t make any major mistakes,” said da Luz, who logged 20 minutes in New York’s 1-1 tie against the Whitecaps. “But I have to work on my fitness more, get that up there so I can be ready to help and contribute more.”
Da Luz is also making his debut as a bit of a poster boy for the Red Bulls this month, joining teammate Tim Ream on the cover of the current issue of Hoboken Lifestyle Magazine. The two Red Bulls youngsters both live in the eclectic and trendy New Jersey city.
While Ream brings a traditionally stoic, arms-folded pose to the cover, da Luz has his hair styled at a seemingly impossible angle that’s perhaps fitting for a guy looking to make his breakout, right?
“They brought in a stylist and he did something with my hair, not really what I would do with it,” da Luz said. “But hey, if I need to have foolish hair to help bring more attention to the team, then I’ll do it.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer