HANOVER, N.J. — Can a somewhat nondescript goal half the world away in a friendly match played in Bratislava save the New York Red Bulls’ season?
Chris Armas thinks, and hopes, Kaku’s late equalizer for Paraguay in a 1-1 draw against Slovakia Sunday can help ignite his enigmatic playmaker in the club’s biggest match of the year, when the Red Bulls play the Philadelphia Union in a Round One Audi 2019 MLS Playoffs match Sunday (3 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes in US; TSN4, TVAS2 in Canada).
Armas has said, often in defense of the midfielder, Kaku brings something no one else on his team can. His vision, his intensity, his desire to win at all costs is unmatched.
He says Kaku’s work against the ball, his counterpressing is unique among the league’s best playmakers.
Armas points to that goal in Bratislava as the latest example of Kaku’s greatness.
“He comes in for a half-hour or so and changes the game,” Armas said after training Wednesday. “And he has courage to find the game; he’s always looking to play forward. He sets up guys in good ways and then starts the play fairly far from goal, and finishes the play by joining in.
“That shows that he's good, but it shows he's got a real commitment to winning. He understands. And if not, he's going down trying and that's what you love about him.”
On the play, Kaku took a Luis Robles goal kick down with a pillowy-soft touch and, in the same motion, pivoted into attack mode. He quickly threaded a pass past two Philadelphia players to Bradley Wright-Phillips, who fed Royer for the tap-in.
“How many players have you seen — put the TV on — around the world that can bring that out of the air, and then get the pass off he delivers to Wright-Phillips, who then passes it to Royer?” Armas said. “But that's special talent right there. That’s Kaku. The coaches and scouts don’t take credit for that.”
It is true: It only takes one moment to alter a game. And Kaku has that in him. But the 24-year-old has made more noise for a contentious transfer saga involving Club America in Liga MX earlier this year, with Kaku’s agent accusing Red Bulls management of reneging on what he claimed was an agreed-upon transfer fee, only to ask for more money.
He was left off the gameday 18-man roster in March for what Armas called “a minor internal issue,” believed to be related to Kaku’s cryptic tweets. And there was the moment of petulance against Sporting Kansas City at Children’s Mercy Park in April when he fired a ball into the stands out of frustration and received a red card, and served an additional two-game suspension.
A year ago, Kaku had six goals and 14 assists, although he had just one goal and two assists in the final 12 games of the regular season. This year, those numbers have slipped to five goals and six assists.
Armas can talk all he wants about Kaku’s special qualities, about his desire and vision. He can even talk about what Kaku does off the ball. But the bottom line is he was brought in following a lengthy transfer telenovela that inspired the #KakuWatch hashtag to influence games, to serve that killer ball, to make a difference in the biggest game.
Kaku did it in Bratislava. Now he’s got to do it in Chester.