Florian Valot celebrates his goal. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
After two frustrating years in which he suffered a pair of season-ending ACL injuries, Florian Valot finally had something to celebrate besides just coming back on the field.
The Red Bulls midfielder tallied the lone goal in their 1-0 victory over Atlanta United in the MLS Is Back Tournament opener for both teams at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Fla. Saturday night.
Valot was thinking much more of his team than himself.
“I think it’s difficult for everybody, but I think it was important to score early and reward the team for the first 5-10 minutes that we had we pushed really hard,” he said. “Obviously it’s really rewarding for myself after what I’ve been through for the last two years but it’s full credit for the team and I’m really happy we get the win today.”
The 27-year-old native of Monaco, France had endured two major disappointments the last two years and it wasn’t anything he did.
On July 19, 2018, he had season-ending surgery after suffering an ACL tear in his left knee.
On April 4, 2019, Valot had an operation after incurring an ACL tear on his right knee.
“I’ve seen Flo’s journey, come with the injuries and he works really hard to come back,” head coach Chris Armas said. “And that just to see him play well and produce it’s really special moments for Flo. He understands how we play with the ball he’s really clean brings ideas to our team, and he understands the system how to play, which is not an easy system when there’s only two 10s in there to understand the spaces and how to play against the ball. I think we see that he does a nice job.”
With the game barely four minutes old, Valot and Kaku demonstrated their teamwork in perfect precision on the game’s lone score. Kaku’s pin-point pass found an open Valot in the middle. Valot bolted toward the net and beat goalkeeper Brad Guzan from 15 yards, his first goal since 2018.
Needless to say, Armas was quite pleased with Valot’s performance.
“Well, it’s fitting for the two guys sitting next to Flo [Valot] and Kaku both, they really understand how to operate in that red zone,” he said. “We call it the space between the other teams 6’s and backline because their awareness and their ability to know exactly where they are at all times, and then to make final plays whether it’s a goal or an assist their passing ability and intelligence is of a high level. When you talk about Flo and Kaku he’s, he’s able to make the game, but when you have another playmaker you play with two 10s, it takes pressure off of Kaku and we say how long does it take a couple of players to get on the same page. And these guys can get on the same page pretty quickly.”