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Welcome back, Connor: a tribute to Connor Lade

Connor Lade’s latest comeback at RBNY is underway.

Connor Lade prepares to pass the ball for New York Red Bulls against Real Salt Lake at Red Bull Arena; March 25, 2017
Welcome back to the field, Connor Lade
Matthew Stith

Depending on how you calculate these things, Connor Lade is either the longest-tenured player in the current New York Red Bulls squad, or second on the list of longest-serving players on the roster. He was signed to the team in December, 2011, but didn’t make his debut for the first team until April 14, 2012. Ryan Meara (drafted by RBNY in February, 2012) made his debut for RBNY about a month earlier.

Despite his length of service, Lade has made only 88 appearances for RBNY in all competitions - and 30 of those were in his rookie season. He is the Red Bulls’ resident comeback kid, though at 27 he is not a kid at all.

As a rookie, Lade found favor with RBNY head coach Hans Backe, who played him more than any Red Bulls head coach since: 26 regular-season appearances (22 starts), the only playoff starts of his career to date, and a couple of starts in US Open Cup. All told, Lade got 2088 minutes in the regular season alone that year - it wasn’t until 2016 that his cumulative playing time in MLS for the rest of his time at RBNY eclipsed that single-season personal best. He ended 2012 with a call-up to the US Men’s National Team January camp.

When Backe was replaced by Mike Petke for the 2013 season, Lade was one of the casualties of the coaching change. He never quite seemed to convince Petke, and in 2014 he was loaned out to New York Cosmos. It seemed his days at RBNY were numbered - but Lade was recalled from loan before the end of the season and though his minutes were (very) limited in MLS, he even logged a couple of playoff appearances.

And then it was Petke’s turn to hop off the RBNY coaching hot seat, and Lade had a third manager to try to impress: Jesse Marsch. Without quite reaching the first-choice starter status he’d attained under Backe, Lade won regular appearances in 2015. In 2016, he found similar opportunity and looked to be building on the performances he’d put in the previous year. Back-to-back seasons with regular minutes was a new feature of his career and a positive step - and then he was injured.

Lade went down in August and RBNY (accurately) estimated he wouldn’t be back until sometime between February and April. On March 25, 2017, he made his first appearance for the first team since his injury.

What is perhaps more encouraging for Lade than the simple fact he is ready to play again is that his return to the first team would appear to have been carefully planned by his head coach. As he told reporters after his comeback start against Real Salt Lake:

We kind of set this date a little while ago. Jesse marked this down on the calendar, with international break and maybe missing some guys, that this could be a game where if I was feeling up to it, I could kind of be in that selection for starting, but definitely be in the 18. I'm just happy it worked out tonight that I could get that start.

Lade played 61 minutes, and his coach said he was pleased with what he saw. Jesse Marsch told the media post-game:

I feel like Connor Lade came in and for 60 minutes was pretty much our best player. Played very well.

Indeed, Marsch seemed to suggest he tried to force the issue of Lade’s return to the field:

As much as we knew he wasn't 90 minutes fit, we wanted him on the field. We want to get him going.

I think we've been patient enough. So I've been challenging our medical staff because they've asked me to be patient, and I keep telling them that I'm impatient. So it was time to get Connor going, and I thought he was fantastic. I thought in the first half, he was our best player. He got a little fatigued in the second half, but we're going to continue to build on that performance for him.

Connor Lade’s latest comeback doesn’t seem to require him to prove his worth to the team. This time around, his coach knows the role he wants of Lade, and is apparently in a hurry to see the player back on the field.

This time around, maybe we will see 2012-level minutes for Lade again.

Welcome back, Connor.

Photographer Matthew Stith was at the RBNY-RSL game at Red Bull Arena on March 25. Here are a selection of his shots from the game, mostly those of Lade.

Catch more of Matthew Stith’s work at matthewstith.com.