HARRISON, NJ – In sports, there’s always a story about one team’s rubbish becoming another team’s gold.
From Jeremy Lin to Victor Cruz to R.A. Dickey, sometimes a star falls out of the sky and into the lap of a fortunate team in desperate need of their talents. Brandon Barklage is quickly becoming that star for the Red Bulls.
After being released by DC United in December, Barklage was signed by the Red Bulls at the start of the 2012 campaign under the recommendation of assistant coach Mike Petke as a right-sided midfielder. Moved to right back in an emergency situation against the New England Revolution on April 24, the St. Louis native has since taken to his new role and has made his presence in the lineup undroppable.
The Red Bulls have been the beneficiaries. Since Barklage’s insertion into the starting lineup, New York has a 6-1-2 record and vaulted to the top of the Eastern Conference. His team captain couldn’t help laud the praises of one of New York’s biggest contributors during the run.
“The guy at the beginning of the season wasn’t a starter, but I can tell you, in training, he was working very hard,” Thierry Henry said. “In the end, when you work hard, you get what you deserve … what he’s been doing out of position has been outstanding.
The 25-year-old put an exclamation point on his good run of form Sunday night, putting on a Man of the Match performance against his former club. He scored two scintillating goals – the first two of his MLS career – and helped the Red Bulls to a 3-2 win over DC. For Barklage, it was sweet revenge for a player that was considered surplus to requirements in the nation’s capital.
“This is the date that I definitely circled on the calendar,” Barklage said after the game. “ I knew I was going to give it 110 percent, and whatever happened, happened … it feels unbelievable to do it against a team that told me at the end of the year I couldn’t cut it.”
Dax McCarty knew how much the game meant to Barklage. A former DC United player himself, McCarty was full praise for his goalscoring teammate.
“You can’t help but look at his story and feel great,” he said. “What a performance from him. It’s a little bit of vindication for him, especially the way he was released from DC. He comes from two ACL injuries and [Sunday], he was the Man of the Match for us.
Barklage’s first strike came in the 20th minute off an out-swinging corner kick from Joel Lindpere. Running into the box, Barklage acrobatically volleyed the ball past DC United goalkeeper Bill Hamid to equalize for New York.
Despite being just his second goal of his career, Barklage said he knew exactly what we wanted to do when he hit the screamer.
“The ball popped up 25, 30 feet in the air and I had one thing on my mind and that was to shoot the ball. Luckily I concentrated well enough to put the ball in the back of the net.”
His former teammate, Chris Pontius, wasn’t surprised.
“I know he can hit a ball,” Pontius said. “He’s one of those guys when in practice he’d line up and you question whether you should get in the way or get out of the way. I’ve seen him hit the ball like that and he struck it well.
With his experience as a midfielder, Barklage has the instinct to be a more attacking right back but said that the foremost responsibility as a defender is keep the opposing team from scoring. While his goals scored Sunday were the main talking point, his position and tackling were immaculate in the victory.
“[The goals] are obviously going to give me confidence going forward more often,” he said. “But it’s defense first in that position and I understand that.”
He may not score the rest of the season, but one thing is certainly clear: the Red Bulls have found their right back for the foreseeable future and a pretty darn good one with a fearsome shot.