Connor Lade: “I just tried to get into the game, complete that first pass, that first tackle, and just get back into the swing of things, and I thought it was good to knock off some of that rust tonight.” (Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis

Front Row Soccer Editor

HARRISON, N.J. — After the Red Bulls’ frustrating 1-1 draw with Real Salt Lake Saturday, head coach Jesse Marsch called Connor Lade “as pretty much our best player.”

Lade? He was just happy Marsch called his number at Red Bull Arena as he played his first Major League Soccer match since suffering a knee injury last July.

“We kind of set this date a little while ago,” Lade said. “Jesse marked this down on the calendar, with the international break and maybe missing some guys, that this could be a game where if I was feeling up to it, I could kind of be in that selection for starting, but definitely be in the 18. I’m just happy it worked out tonight that I could get that start.”

So was Marsch, who deployed the 5-7, 145-lb. Lade at right back before the former St. John’s University standout was pulled for Sal Zizzo, who started the Red Bulls’ first three MLS matches at that position.

“What you see with him is just his energy and will is so big. You know what I mean?” Marsch said. “He will always get judged for his size, but he’ll never get judged for his heart. That’s truly what makes him a big player. So, as much as we knew he wasn’t 90 minutes fit, we wanted him on the field. We want to get him going.”

Lade, 27, figured he was ready after he played the first half of the Red Bulls II’s 2-1 win over Bethlehem Steel FC in the team’s final preseason match prior to the United Soccer season

“It was great,” Lade said. “Ideally, I wish I could have played a little bit more. I got a solid 45 against Bethlehem. That was huge for me.

“I really tried to push myself as hard as I could because I knew that would be my last chance before being in with the first team. I tried to lay in some pretty hard tackles in there to see if I could come out on the right side and I did. It was good to push myself there.”

So, on Saturday night, Lade took another step, playing 61 minutes.

“I felt pretty good,” he said. “I kind of just wanted to go out there and not really think about it. I didn’t really think about [the injury] the entire time out there. I just tried to get into the game, complete that first pass, that first tackle, and just get back into the swing of things, and I thought it was good to knock off some of that rust tonight.”

Connor Lade reflects on the scoreless draw against RSL. 🎙️

تم نشره بواسطة ‏‎New York Red Bulls‎‏ في 26 مارس، 2017

Video courtesy of Red Bulls Facebook page

While he did not play the full 90 minutes, Lade also was quite happy with his endurance.

“I’ve been doing more fitness in the last seven months than I have ever wanted to do in my life so in that sense, I felt pretty good,” he said. “Still, you can’t really replicate game fitness, and it was the longest I played in a while, so overall, it felt good.”

Marsch indicated that Lade will see plenty of more action in the coming weeks and months.

“I think we’ve been patient enough,” he said. “So, I’ve been challenging our medical staff because they’ve asked me to be patient, and I keep telling them that I’m impatient. So, it was time to get Connor going, and I thought he was fantastic. I thought in the first half, he was our best player. He got a little fatigued in the second half, but we’re going to continue to build on that performance for him.”