HARRISON, N.J. – There was a moment early in the second half of the New York Red Bulls’ 1-0 victory over the Chicago Fire where forward Thierry Henry began barking at the sidelines, requesting head coach Hans Backe to make a substitution.
Henry did not want just any substitute to come onto the scorching field at Red Bull Arena. He wanted Connor Lade.
The Frenchman’s wish was granted a few minutes later, and what transpired after for Lade is what is becoming the norm for the versatile rookie. He showed his usual tireless work ethic and defensive bite, and that provided some much-needed energy for a Red Bulls team dealing with temperatures that reached up to 101 degrees.
WATCH: Full Match Highlights
Lade also contributed offensively, more so than he has for much of the past few months. He took on Fire defenders whose legs were surely tired after chasing the Red Bulls’ other attackers in the sizzling conditions, and the spark Lade brought was key in helping New York pick up the three points.
“For me, he’s the player of the season so far with Brandon [Barklage],” Henry told reporters after the match. “They’ve been doing extremely well. You saw it, as soon as he came on, the game changed. He was in their face, in their feet, in whatever. Typical him: turning, twisting, jumping everywhere.
“That’s the type of guy that you like coming on. When I turned and saw him coming on, it gives you a little lift,” Henry added. “A big lift even. I’m a big fan of him. What I like about him, he always puts his head down and works. He changed the game when he came on.”
Lade even played a small part in the build-up to the winning goal in the match. After Roy Miller dispossessed Patrick Nyarko, Lade received a pass from Mehdi Ballouchy. He then hit Sébastien Le Toux with a pass, before running into open space to allow Le Toux time to pick out Henry’s diagonal run.
“All I want to do is be on the field any way I can,” said Lade, who came into the game in the 61st minute for Victor Pálsson. “If it’s the whole game, or 20 minutes, you want to try and come out and lift the team as best I can. Just fortunate that the coach had the confidence to put me in there.”
Like Henry, Backe was full of praise for his young utility player. He was pleased with how Lade defended, passed the ball and his overall impact on a match that seemed destined for a scoreless draw before he got his chance.
“Connor is absolutely flying,” Backe said. “Every time he comes on or starts games, he will make a difference. His work ethic, his pressing game, he has been much more composed overall. Because he’s a clever guy, he will definitely improve all the time.”