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Ronald Zubar, we hardly knew you

It was short but sweet for Zubi at RBNY

MLS: New York City FC at New York Red Bulls
Ronald Zubar says goodbye
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

It was just two short seasons for Ronald Zubar at the New York Red Bull: just 40 appearances in all competitions - 17 in 2015 and 23 in 2016. He had injury problems n his time at the club, quite literally from the start: he limped out of his very first competitive game. But somehow even his disappointment on debut provided for a positive memory - his replacement that day, Matt Miazga, went on to have a breakout season (and won himself a transfer to Chelsea as a consequence).

Sidelined on his first day on the job in March 2015, Zubi didn’t make it back to the starting lineup until June. In the US Open Cup fourth round against (then) NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks (now in NPSL), he scored the second goal of the match. It had been a long road back to fitness and his first RBNY goal triggered a long celebratory run that ended in a jubilant hug with Jesse Marsch.

I remember how happy he was that day, telling the media he was thankful that he was fit enough to play on the field and emphasizing (unnecessarily - we saw it, Zubi) how happy he had been to celebrate with a goal.

The injury issues persisted, unfortunately, but when he had his health, Zubar was a strong, hard-nosed center back who formed effective partnerships with Matt Miazga, Damien Perrinelle, and Aurelien Collin over the two seasons he was a Red Bull. And that first season that started with an injury ended with a Supporters’ Shield.

Well, it didn’t quite end there. Perhaps fittingly, Zubar was in the starting lineup at the bitter end of the 2015 season, just as had been at the start of the year. Injury cost him his place, and handed him another opportunity: Damien Perrinelle was injured in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals against D.C. United; Zubar replaced him for the remainder of the playoff run (which ended in frustration against Columbus).

Defenders’ highlight reels can be lacking in truly memorable moments, since a good defender is mostly in the right place at the right time making the right decision. Case in point: Zubar’s 2016 highlights.

But he had a knack for memorable goals. None more so than his first in MLS, off a crazy trick play in Chicago in 2015. It is probably still being reviewed by PRO, destined to be a perennial case study on the subject of whether trick plays are even allowed. This one saw Lloyd Sam put the ball in play with a soft touch disguised as the usual pre-corner fidgeting of an attacking side buying time to get into position. Sacha Kljestan then sauntered over to the corner flag, and simply dribbled the ball toward goal until he found a suitable target for the pass. Zubar did the rest.

In 2016, he added a goal in the snow against Colorado.

And he got one against NYCFC at Red Bull Arena.

After that game, as I was leaving the stadium, I was startled by the honking horn of an approaching car. It was Zubar, who made a point of getting my attention, shaking my hand, and sharing a few words after a big match.

That is my abiding memory of the man. A solid defender who chipped in the occasional goal, yes. But mostly an immense presence in the locker room and at the training ground. A practical joker, and an all-around good guy.

I got the jump on him once, and all I was doing was getting groceries. I bumped into Zubar and Perrinelle - RBNY’s French Connection - in the aisles of my local supermarket. Or his local supermarket, as he thought of it. We had a laugh at his shock at seeing me.

You try not to get too personal with the players that you cover at a club but, if I may be honest, Ronald Zubar is one of those I will miss a lot. I admired his play, but most of all I’ll miss the personality of a funny and genuine man.

Au revoir, Zubi, au revoir.