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New York Red Bulls Need a Healthy Ronald Zubar

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The oft-injured Frenchman has become an irreplaceable asset in central defense this season.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

In 2015, Ronald Zubar couldn’t have had a worse go-around in MLS with the New York Red Bulls. Brought over to Harrison from French club Ajaccio by Ali Curtis, Zubar was tasked with replacing Jamison Olave in central defense. However, the Frenchman’s brittle body and poor play soured his inaugural MLS campaign.

Zubar’s injury struggles began in RBNY’s very first game of the season when his MLS debut was cut short with a hamstring pull. This would be the first of three separate extended stints in the training room due to lower-body injuries that limited the Guadeloupe-born defender to eight starts and 12 total appearances during the regular season. 

With those injuries and a weakness for costly errors, Zubar saw little time on the field and his spot in Jesse Marsch’s starting XI was usurped by the emerging Matt Miazaga. Only a season-ending injury to Damien Perrinelle in NY’s first playoff game, allowed Zubar to return to the starting lineup for the Red Bulls’ final three games of the season. 

Coming into 2016, many fans expected little from NY’s No. 23. due to his history of injury and during the early part of the season, they got what they expected. Despite making it through the Red Bulls’ season-opening loss to Toronto FC, Zubar, once again, pulled his hamstring in NY’s third game of the year; a 4-3 win over the Houston Dynamo. That injury would put Zubar on the shelf for a month.

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Limping to a 1-6 record and leaking goals to start the season, Curtis pulled the trigger on a trade for Orlando City defender Aurelien Collin. In his first appearance for the Red Bulls, Collin would line up alongside Zubar in NY’s 1-1 draw at Orlando. 

Since that first outing together in May, the Collin-Zubar pairing has emerged as RBNY’s most successful. In nine starts together, the Red Bulls have amassed a 6-0-3 record while only giving up seven goals; a 0.78 per game average. Gone from Zubar’s game were the rash challenges and gaffes in crucial moments that had become an unfortunate staple of his play when he managed to get onto the field. In fact, Zubar was playing like one of the best defenders in MLS. 

In Collin and Zubar’s first nine starts together, each player would go the full 90 minutes. During that time, Zubar had, by far, his greatest run of form in a NY shirt. In those nine starts while paired with Collin, Zubar graded-out to a 7.29 rating according to WhoScored.com’s player performance evaluations. If extrapolated over the course of the year, that would rank Zubar as MLS’s highest-rated defender of the season.

Alas, the Red Bulls would see an end to Zubar’s rich form as he suffered another injury.

Coming off consecutive 1-0 shutout wins over the New England Revolution and at the Vancouver Whitecaps, and securing only their second road win of the season, the Collin-Zubar pairing would be broken up five minutes into the Red Bulls’ September 11 match-up with DC United as Zubar was forced to exit with an abdominal injury. RBNY would go on to tie DC 2-2 in that game at Red Bull Arena after leading 2-0 in the 89th minute and would twice blow two-goal leads in a 3-3 draw at Toronto.

Even the Red Bulls' biggest bug-a-boo of the season, turning two-goal leads into soul-crushing draws has been lessened when Collin and Zubar are the main cogs in central defense.

Of the five different occasions NY has blown multiple-goal leads, Collin and Zubar were on the field together for two of them and only started and finished one of them.

  • In an early-august matchup at the LA Galaxy, Collin was rushed in to partner Zubar after Perrinelle went off injured after 30 minutes. Collin and Zubar would be on there field together as New York a 2-0 second half lead, only to see the game end in a 2-2 draw.
  • Collin and Zubar started and each went 90 minutes at DC as RBNY saw another 2-0 lead turn into a 2-2 draw.

2016 has been an odd year for the Red Bulls; 1-6 start and 20 dropped points from winning positions. Even with all of that, NY are unbeaten in their last 15 in all competitions and are currently in second place in MLS’s Eastern Conference. However, hidden amongst all of that has been the stellar play of their much-maligned center back. In order for RBNY to win a trophy this season, they will need Ronald Zubar back healthy and paired with Aurelien Collin in central defense.