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Kyle Duncan has a torn ACL

A sad and abrupt end to one of the more surprising success stories of RBNY’s opening month of MLS 2018.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at New York Red Bulls Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Red Bulls have announced that Kyle Duncan tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during the team’s MLS regular season game against Orlando City on March 31.

The 20-year-old will be having surgery to repair the injury. No timetable has yet been issued for his recovery, but anything less than several months before he next plays for the first team might be regarded as a remarkably quick return to the field.

The news is a blow for RBNY, but a greater blow for the player. The Red Bulls have started 2018 with two competitions to focus on: MLS and CONCACAF Champions League. Since CCL is the bigger and more immediate prize - the final is in April - head coach Jesse Marsch has largely used his preferred starting lineup for the CONCACAF competition. This has provided opportunity for several back-ups and junior players to accumulate starts in the opening games of the MLS season.

Duncan had started all four of RBNY’s MLS matches in 2018 to date, playing every minute until he limped out of the team’s 4-3 loss to OCSC as that game entered its final quarter. He had been playing well, looking comfortable both in the Red Bulls’ system and in MLS in general.

A Red Bull Academy product and US youth team international, Duncan turned down the chance to play for NYRB II and instead sought to launch his career as a pro soccer player in Europe. He signed with French second-tier side Valenciennes in late 2015. But he wasn’t able to crack the first team lineup and returned to his former club for a preseason trial this year. That trial went very well: Duncan was signed to RBNY’s MLS roster in early March.

With starting right back Amir Murillo occupied by CCL and international duty, Duncan has been the Red Bulls’ starter on the right side of defense during a promising start to the league campaign: the team conceded just once in its opening three games of MLS 2018. But things went awry in Orlando, as a succession of defensive lapses and one dubious refereeing decision combined to see RBNY leak four goals and slump to its second loss of the new season.

So many things went wrong simultaneously for the Red Bulls in Orlando that it is reasonable to cast the 4-3 loss as simply an unusually bad day for the back line. But Duncan’s ACL tear- the sort of injury from which it can take a while to recover - is a more lasting consequence than some dropped points and residual irritation with a referee.

He was one of the success stories of RBNY’s first month of 2018, and looked a potential long-term replacement for Murillo - who is expected to be at the World Cup this summer with Panama, and is starting to get the rumor mill excited. At the very least, the Red Bulls have long known they’ll need cover for Murillo’s likely absence when Panama calls him to its squad for Russia 2018. Duncan appeared to have settled that issue with his early-season form, but it’s an open question again now.

RBNY will not be unduly panicked by Duncan’s injury. He was the second-choice right back, after all, and the first-choice - Murillo - is fit and well. There are other back-up options in the squad, and there is plenty of time between now and the summer to explore trade and transfer options if a fresh face is required before Murillo is asked to step away from his club to support his country’s efforts at the World Cup.

But for Duncan it’s an unfortunate end to what had been a fast start to his senior career with RBNY. He took his first chance to impress in MLS about as well as could be expected, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t do just as well when his next opportunity comes along. But that’s at least a few months away.

Get well soon, Kyle.