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New York Red Bulls set new club record for Homegrown player appearances in a single game

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The best thing about this record is that it was easy to overlook.

Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

In the 84th minute of the New York Red Bulls2-0 win over Columbus Crew on April 22, 2017, Sean Davis subbed in for Sacha Kljestan and carried a new team record on to the field with him.

Davis was the fifth RBNY Homegrown player to feature in the game: a record high for the club in MLS, per its official notes on the match.

The record-setting quintet comprised starters Tyler Adams, Connor Lade, and Alex Muyl, plus subs Derrick Etienne and Davis. Head coach Jesse Marsch appeared to change his mind at the last moment when Etienne subbed in, intervening to prevent Daniel Royer from being withdrawn and instead taking Muyl out of the game - but for that, we might have seen all five Homegrown players on the field at the same time.

The milestone is merely the latest illustration of the Red Bulls' commitment to its academy system, but a significant one. The club has had one of the better youth set-ups in American soccer since - arguably - before Red Bull took it over. And Lade's presence in the squad - he was signed in 2011 - serves to remind that the team has been making Homegrown signings for several years. But the RBNY regime change in 2015 brought with it a renewed focus on developing Academy players.

This happened to coincide with a league-wide "Play Your Kids" push that occasionally looks fetishistic, with cheerleading for Homegrown signings around MLS sometimes appearing to value a player's provenance over actual achievements on the field. After the team's win over D.C. United on April 15, head coach Jesse Marsch countered the fetishizing tendency in media coverage of Homegrown players:

Our Homegrowns aren't just guys that we have on the roster because they're Homegrowns.
The game against Columbus was a case in point. The five Homegrowns deployed in the match were on the field on merit: Lade is one of the more experienced players in the squad and the obvious choice to start at right back, once it was known Sal Zizzo was injured; Adams has cemented a starting midfield role with a string of consistent performances; the man he displaced from the lineup, Davis, was an obvious selection to sub in late to the match to help control the tempo and close the win; Muyl proved his starting bona fides last season and is now on a mini-scoring streak; injuries have handed Etienne a chance to prove his worth to the first team, and he has been a regular on the field while Gonzalo Veron and Mike Grella make their way back to fitness.

On April 22, for the first time in RBNY history, it made sense for five Homegrown players to play in the same regular-season game. Not because they are Homegrown, or because the the match was one earmarked for emerging players to get experience, or even due to an unusual concentration of injuries (there are injuries in the squad, but hardly an unusual number). Rather, they played because they had recommended themselves to the tasks they were assigned through past performances.

They were the best options available at the time, under present circumstances. And that is why the fact there were more of them playing for the Red Bulls in a single game than ever before was easy to miss.