When Florian Valot's right knee buckled in a challenge on Sunday, the New York Red Bulls midfielder feared the worst. In those fleeting moments, it appeared his season would end as the last one ended: on the treatment table, nursing a torn ACL.
Few words can properly convey the desolate feeling to see Valot writhing in pain -- not just wrestling with the physical discomfort the injury charges but the mental agony.
"I felt so bad," teammate Daniel Royer said in a soft, somber voice after the game, one that doesn't often accompany a 4-1 win. "He started crying, I almost started crying when I saw that because I know how hard he's working, I know how tough it is to get back from a long term injury."
Fears were confirmed days later, as an MRI scan revealed Valot suffered a torn ACL in his right knee, a mere eight and a half months after enduring a torn ACL in his left knee. Valot has vowed to be resilient once again, adding on Instagram that "you guys can't get rid of me that easily and I'll be back stronger next year."
As Valot embarks on his unfortunately all-too-familiar season-long recovery, the Red Bulls will endure pain from the injury as well. His attacking presence in the midfield is an important one, offering something different from Sean Davis, Marc Rzatkowski and Cristian Casseres Jr. Last season, Valot broke into the team with three goals and five assists across 14 appearances. His impact was such that the club scored 2.0 goals per game with him on the field but 1.4 goals per game without him, including playoffs.
The Red Bulls will be without one of their creative players, someone who can help unlock low-block defenses. Head coach Chris Armas has frequently discussed the team needs to improve in that area, but now one of the team's key locksmiths will be unavailable.
What are the Red Bulls' options without Valot?
Bezecourt started alongside Valot last weekend, fueled by the conspicuous absence of Kaku from the matchday squad being labeled a "minor internal issue" by Armas, looking to replace the Paraguayan's creator-in-chief responsibilities. If the smoke surrounding Kaku's future with the club doesn't dissipate, Valot's replacement will become all the more critical.
The midfielder picked up his first assist of 2019 against the San Jose Earthquakes and offers a similar style to Valot. Bezecourt can feature a bit deeper than attacking midfield for the front-footed Red Bulls, while Fernandez leans further up the pitch.
Fernandez started and scored when Armas opted for an attack-heavy lineup against Santos Laguna in their Concacaf Champions League duel, while he earned his MLS debut on opening weekend.
There are other permutations Armas can lean on, and perhaps a fair few that aren't apparent. He has ample wingers to lean on flanking Kaku and has the attacking depth to feature a few two-striker lineups. Above all, Armas can lean on the club's devastating press: The system is a chance creator in and of itself.
When the press isn't on, though, the absence of Valot will be most discernible. But the Red Bulls, as they have proven time and time again, are at the vanguard of promoting from within. Fernandez and Bezecourt will hope to be just further proof of that ethos.