Somewhere tangled in the overall story of goals, let-downs, physical play and controversy was a narrative of young attacking players, who have started for Red Bull II in recent years, taking the opportunity and getting on the score sheet for the first time in their MLS careers.
Florian Valot was the first player to get on the board, with a well-timed header in the seventh minute, off of a beautifully-weighted Alejandro Gamarra cross.
Valot then played provider for the team’s second goal in the 24th minute, slipping through his former Red Bull II teammate, Derrick Etienne Jr., for Etienne Jr.’s first career league goal.
Derrick Etienne Jr. restores the lead for #RBNY! After a giveaway by #OCSC in midfield, Florian Valot drove forward and played a quality ball for Etienne, who fired through Bendick's legs. 2-1. #ORLvNY #ORLvRBNY #MLS pic.twitter.com/l04mQZXvuj— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) March 31, 2018
“I thought Flo [Florian] first half, was like, the best player on the field,” head coach Jesse Marsch said after the match. “And he continues to show quality, commitment, ability to run, clarity on the tactics; really good to see Flo continue to develop.”
The goal seemed to be the perfect start for New York; however, a worrisome pattern emerged, as after every Red Bulls goal, the Lions had an answer in eight minutes or less.
What stood out after the match was Valot, an attack-minded player by trade, focusing so heavily on the lack of concentration and defending after goals in his post-game comments.
Valot did not blame the defense for the loss, nor did he give any excuses. Instead, speaking more like a captain than a junior player trying to clamber up the depth chart, when Valot was asked what it felt like to score his first MLS goal, the 25-year-old made the team’s result the focus.
“It feels amazing, but, at the same time, I’d rather switch my goal for a win,” Valot said. “That was a great play from Kaku [Gamarra] on the left side. I was able to sneak in the second post; I don’t want to say easy header, but like, the open net. But, yeah, I would rather switch that goal for a win.”
Valot was particularly critical of the team’s defending on restarts, which seems a fair appraisal of what happened to RBNY at Orlando City Stadium. What is surprising is how open Valot was in speaking about the team’s shortcomings on the day, and how bothered he clearly was by the lapses in concentration.
“We come back 2-1, 2-1 up. And then, again, once again, with the restart; [we were] a little bit, not lazy, but, not really ready; so we give up another goal,” Valot said. “And we go down 3-2 and then come back 3-3, and then, unfortunately, they score that goal from a deflection.”
The attitude is not surprising, given the toughness that Valot has already displayed to reach the RBNY first team. Valot made the jump from France to the United States in 2014, coming over to play college soccer at Rider University. And while college soccer may be criticized for its quality and schedule, it tests a player coming from overseas, both physically and mentally.
To emerge from that into a player who was part of a double-winning USL team in 2016, a 10-goal-seven-assist man for that same USL team in 2017, and now a member of the Red Bulls first team in 2018, is a testament to his resolve.
Valot also went on to speak about the Red Bull’s ability to overcome deficits, displaying the perspective of someone who has been a part of the first team for many seasons.
“We have so much talent in that team. So, we know that when we go down, 2-1, 3-1, we can come back,” Valot said. “But, those little mistakes cost us…a lot. And, I think today didn’t go our way. We should have done a little better on the restarts, that’s what killed us. But, we were, I think able to – we should have come out with at least a point.”
Despite the loss, the game is only one of 34 in the regular season. And while it hurts for New York to fall short against an Orlando City team that came into Saturday with only one point in three matches, the biggest tests the Red Bulls will face in the foreseeable future will be in the CONCACAF Champions League, beginning Wednesday, April 4.
With many players resting for that upcoming first leg against C.D. Guadalajara, this past weekend in Orlando was a way to test which players outside the penciled-in-11 can make an impact at the MLS level. With a goal, an assist and a veteran attitude to boot, Florian Valot showed why he’s been climbing up the ranks at RBNY: he has the ability and demeanor to be an MLS stalwart for years to come.