Sal Zizzo Quietly Fills Desperate Need For RBNY

USA Today

Late in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over the New England Revolution, thousands of Red Bulls fans held their collective breath as Aaron Long lay on his back in pain. Their fears turned to reality when the 24-year-old central defender was taken off the pitch for the first time the entire season. Without a veteran centerback on the bench, Jesse Marsch turned to Sal Zizzo to fill the role and secure the crucial three points. Though central defense wasn’t a role he had played before this season, it’s one he’s been quickly getting accustomed to.

When Gideon Baah was placed on season-ending injury reserve, and Ronald Zubar failed to re-sign with the club, it was clear that the Red Bulls’ defensive depth was going to be tested throughout the 2017 season. However, no one could have anticipated how quickly that exam would come.

Replete with outside defenders, Jesse Marsch was forced to enter the season with only three natural centerbacks on the depth chart; Long, Damien Perrinelle, and Aurelien Collin.

Throughout the early part of the 2017 season, Collin has been plagued by fitness troubles, leaving the rookie, Long, and Perrinelle as the only two options in the middle. When Long went down in the 86th minute, it left a significant gap in front of Luis Robles.

The only centerback option on the bench was Hassan Ndam, a rookie yet to play a minute in MLS. Considering the situation, Marsch elected to keep Ndam from experiencing too much pressure in his debut, and chose Connor Lade to come in.

The move for Lade, an outside back, pushed Sal Zizzo, who had started the match on the right side, into the center to fend off an anticipated furious late onslaught from the visitors.

Zizzo – who came to Red Bull Arena by way of their cross-river rivals New York City FC in 2015 – has been a midfielder throughout his career. Despite that pedigree, he’s been converted to a right-back, making 42 appearances out of that position in just over two seasons for the Red Bulls.

You will be forgiven for not realizing that Zizzo – who owns an Italian passport – leads all Red Bulls defenders in appearances over the last two seasons. The lack of fanfare is a testament to his versatility and dependability.

He’s not flashy, putting up only one goal and four assists in all competitions since 2015. About the flashiest thing he’s done in his Red Bulls career wasn’t even on the pitch; when he and his wife, actress Destiny Moniz, famously appeared on the reality television show “Rattled”.

He’s a prototypical “blue collar” player. His jersey will never be a best-seller, rarely is his locker packed with reporters, and the starting lineups are generally the only time his name is mentioned by the PA announcer.

However, Jesse Marsch has entrusted him on countless occasions to provide a steadying presence in the tumultuous sea that is the Red Bulls backline. If New York is to vie for it’s first MLS Cup, Sal Zizzo will be just as important a name as Luis Robles, Bradley Wright-Phillips, or Sacha Kljestan, in getting them there.