One of the talking points to emerge from the New York Red Bulls 2017 MLS home opener was the somewhat unexpected start handed to 20-year-old Derrick Etienne. The Red Bull Academy product has played in all of RBNY's competitive games so far this season, and the start seemed like fair - if surprising - reward for his last couple of outings.
He was on the pitch in Vancouver inside the first 10 minutes of the ill-fated second leg of the Red Bulls' 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League semifinal, and he played well in relief of the injured Gonzalo Veron. In the next game - RBNY's MLS season opener against Atlanta United - Alex Muyl started in Veron's place, but did not catch the eye. When Etienne joined the game, however, he brought with him a match-turning change in formation.
RBNY head coach Jesse Marsch likes to select form over reputation, and so it would seem he decided to hand Etienne the start against Colorado, leaving Muyl on the bench.
Big up to @detienne_10 & his 1st @mls start. Let's Go!!! #RBNY pic.twitter.com/8X3MI55r0h— ⚽EtienneBallaz⚽ (@EtienneBallaz) March 11, 2017
The Haiti international gave his team about 60 minutes, and Marsch said he liked what he had seen:
Yeah, I thought overall he was solid. He was aggressive to run, to be a threat to get behind, he was aggressive to press. I thought physically in his part of the field he won a lot of battles. He was really close to having a couple plays almost come off for him. So overall I was pretty pleased.
He's had a really good preseason. He's had a really good start to the season. So we think he'll be a guy that we can continue to count on.
Veteran forward Bradley Wright-Phillips told reporters in the locker room that he thought Etienne had made good use of his opportunity to start:
I think he done well, he's lively, you know? He keeps defenders on their toes, he likes to run at them, and I think he done well. It was another thing for them to think about. They don't know much about Derrick, but I'm sure teams will know a lot more by the end of the season.
Etienne, for his part, said the correct and expected things about his surprise start: ready to do whatever is asked, comfortable in whatever role he is assigned, respectful of opponents but focused on the job he has to do, pleased to have got his first start in front of his home crowd. Oh, and his little sister, Danielle, will be the first female player for the New York Red Bulls.
Wait, what? Yes, in an impressive display of brotherly love, Etienne diverted his first post-game interview as a starter in MLS toward his younger sister's career. Watch for yourself. From NewYorkRedBulls.com:
Well played, Derrick - on the field and in front of the locker-room media. Well played.