Connor Lade Is Proving Big Things Come In Small Packages

USA Today

Despite his diminutive stature, Red Bull New York defender Connor Lade has routinely risen to the occasion and come up big in crucial spots this season. Looking towards Sunday’s match against the Fire in Chicago, Lade will need to remain at peak level to neutralize one of the most potent threats in MLS, striker David Accam.

The two already created memories during their first matchup on May 18th, a 1-0 New York victory. Lade, who is listed at an extraordinarily generous 5’7″, walked away with seven stitches above his eye, and Accam earned a one-match ban for the elbow that caused the injury.

Though Lade said Accam was apologetic on the field, and assured him it was an accident, it would be easy to see why the Ghanaian might’ve let frustrations get the best of him. For 72 minutes that day, Lade stifled the prolific goal scorer, and limited him to only three harmless shots, none on net. Lade played the entire 90 minutes, many of which were spent wearing a bandage on his head.

Since that match, Lade has been thrust into prominent role on RBNY’s injury-riddled backline. In the 10 intervening matches before Sunday’s, Lade has started nine of them, and has played 810 out of a possible 900 minutes. More importantly, in his last 10 matches, including the Chicago victory, the Red Bulls have only allowed six goals.

The road to his recent success has been a long and arduous one. The Morristown, New Jersey-native was signed by the Red Bulls as a homegrown player prior to the start of the 2012 season. That year, he played a crucial role on the club as he appeared in 26 matches – 22 of which he started – and scored two goals in the U.S. Open Cup tournament.

RBNY defender Connor Lade (5) and Chicago Fire striker David Accam (11) will face each other again on Sunday.

RBNY defender Connor Lade (5) and Chicago Fire striker David Accam (11) will face each other again on Sunday – Credit: USA TODAY

However, during the next two seasons, Lade played in a combined 11 matches, only two of which he started. Many speculated he was in coach Mike Petke’s doghouse. He ended up on loan to the New York Cosmos of the NASL in 2014, but he only played in eight matches. His career appeared to be sputtering.

2015 brought new opportunities when Jesse Marsch replaced Petke as manager, and Lade was moved from his customary midfield position, which was filled on the depth chart, to wingback. He impressed his new coach enough to earn 16 starts in 18 appearances.

This season, though, has been his true breakout campaign. In addition to playing in 16 matches already, 13 of which he started, Lade tallied his first MLS goal earlier this month against Orlando City S.C. In the press conference after the match, Marsch was shocked to learn that was only his first goal. “I mean…that’s his first career goal, MLS, really? That’s surprising. Yeah, that’s surprising, because Connor is actually quite good around the goal. He can strike a ball. I didn’t know that was his first MLS goal. That’s great!”

Speaking of Lade’s contributions to the club, Marsch hasn’t held back any praise either, “Connor is awesome. Every time I get a question about Connor, I love gushing about Connor because he’s just the kind of guy that every coach loves to have. He’ll do whatever it takes. He’ll fight for his teammates. He’ll play any position. He’ll win his battle.”

New York Red Bulls defender Connor Lade (5) celebrates his first MLS career goal during the first half against the Orlando City FC at Red Bull Arena. Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

New York Red Bulls defender Connor Lade (5) celebrates his first MLS career goal against Orlando City FC . Credit: USA TODAY

This past Sunday, Lade was saddled with one of the toughest assignments of his year when New York City F.C. visited Red Bull Arena for the third iteration of the Hudson River Derby, a 4-1 Red Bulls victory. While playing left-back, Lade was matched up directly against Jack Harrison, who has burst onto the scene for NYCFC. However, the young and vibrant midfielder had minimal impact on the game as Lade completely shut him down. Speaking exclusively to Metro Soccer Nation about his preparation for Harrison, Lade said “I’ve watched a lot of tape on him so I tried to get close to him, play physical, and make his job difficult.”

At 26-years-old, Lade is approaching the point in his career where most soccer players enter their prime. It’s clear that both he and the organization have begun to realize his potential. With the Red Bulls only two points behind NYCFC for first place in the Eastern Conference, now is the most crucial time for Lade to be at his best. Fortunately for Red Bulls fans, Lade doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.