"He played for PSG, Marseille, and Olympique Lyon," I remember a friend telling me as the news of Peguy Luyindula coming to the New York Red Bulls surfaced.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the French international when he first stepped on to the pitch for RBNY. His signing seemed to be overshadowed by the legend Thierry Henry, World Cup star Tim Cahill, and free-kick king Juninho Pernambucano, yet his style of play was intriguing even if he wasn't often considered a key player for the team.
From being an off-the-bench super-sub to scoring three goals in the 2014 playoffs, Luyindula was a player who may not have been the face of the organization, but who got up for the big games and served as an example to younger players on the squad.
In 2013 he played 22 matches in the regular season, taking 21 shots, of which 12 were on goal. But only one reached the back of the net: a penalty handed to him by his friend and captain, Thierry Henry. He had arrived at RBNY billed as a forward, but already seemed a bust in that regard before Henry took it upon himself to try to coax his friend into better shooting form. Almost unnoticed, however, he was able to reinvent himself as a playmaker: racking up seven assists in 863 minutes of play in the regular season: about one every 123 minutes; RBNY's all-time assist leader, Henry, averaged one every 234 minutes; Amado Guevara and Tab Ramos, the club's second-most prolific set-up men, averaged an assist every 264 and 267 minutes respectively.
And among those seven assists in 2013 were the most important three of the Red Bulls' history to date: the three that helped turn a distressing 0-1 deficit into a 5-2 win over Chicago Fire to clinch the 2013 Supporters' Shield.
In the 2014 regular season, Luyindula played in 26 matches, shooting 23 times, 12 on goal (again) - but this time scoring five times. He only landed one assist - but all five of those goals came in games in which RBNY picked up at least a point (mostly a point: four draws and a win). Having been accepted as a playmaker by the end of 2013, he turned himself into a clutch goalscorer for 2014.
And he carried that form into RBNY's delirious run to the cusp of the MLS Cup final: three goals and two assists in five playoff games - including two of the three goals that put the Red Bulls past D.C. United, and the strike that had the club on level terms with New England and dreaming of a Cup final, until Charlie Davies spoiled everything.
All told, nine goals and 11 assists in 60 career appearances for RBNY are not gaudy numbers - but Peguy provided some of the club's highest highs with just a handful of shots and passes.
And beyond those numbers, we ought to consider what he brought to the team off the field. Like Ibrahim Sekagya, Luyindula had experience from around the world and was able to bring that to New York. Like Sekagya, he was a senior professional forced to prove himself and work his way into the lineup. And he did so - twice - with the sort of professionalism and adaptability that the young players around the club cannot help but have benefited from witnessing.
He served as an example, and he was able to help improve the players around him: whenever I see Dax McCarty pirouette out of traffic with the ball at his feet, bodying markers off the ball and taking off into space, I see Peguy - that was his signature move.
He knew he was in the twilight of his career at RBNY. He was no longer chasing the next level in the world of football, but he could help others achieve that goal. This is an area that often gets overlooked when signing an older player and sometimes, a player’s greatest strengths are the ones that don’t appear game day. But this isn’t the case for Luyindula: he proved himself to be a presence on and off the pitch. He left us with a trophy in the cabinet, and at least one midfielder who seemed to visibly improve his ability to hold on to the ball (Hi Dax!).
Peguy Luyindula was a well-rounded player for the club; his contributions should not go unnoticed. He was not a player the team leaned on heavily for media appearances, and it seems to me he preferred even to keep his retirement low-key. Whatever the circumstances of his leaving the team - and you will recall Once A Metro got confirmation from MLS, not RBNY - he kept to himself and has shown zero signs of seeking to do anything but get on with his post-soccer career. Quiet, determined, professional: a model for the young players tying to advance their careers at RBNY.
We didn’t get the opportunity to see him play in 2015, but witnessing him play in NY was a joy to watch and I miss seeing his name in the lineup. Thank you, Peguy Luyindula: for your work for this club, on and off the field.