It would be easy to overlook the contribution of Alex Muyl on Saturday night.
The versatile Red Bulls midfielder put in an ovation-worthy performance at right wingback in a 1-0 win over FC Cincinnati. Muyl’s display earned a glowing assessment from his head coach and teammates following what was just the second win of the season for New York (2-4-2).
Often deployed on the left wing, Muyl was shifted to a right wingback role in what was essentially a 5-1-3-1 formation for the Red Bulls when they were without the ball. But Muyl was instrumental when New York held possession, a perfect fit for the team as the formation morphed into a 3-3-3-1. Muyl pushed forward from the right side effectively, either overlapping with deep runs or tucking in to provide more bodies in the middle of the field.
Muyl had a hand in the Red Bulls’ 38th minute goal, his deep ball into the box was won by the head of Brian White. From there, Daniel Royer backheeled to an on-rushing Connor Lade and the veteran left back powered a shot into the roof of the net from distance.
It was a bit of exquisiteness from the Red Bulls in what must admittedly be termed as an ugly win. But, for a team struggling in the early part of the season, the three points were beautiful.
“It’s a position that I haven’t played too much,” Muyl said after the match. “It’s a different look for us.
“It’s an area where I can get forward and kind of be the overload player. Sometimes you get left unaccounted. When I was on the weak side, I was more coming inside. I’m not going to get as many looks in on goal. I think when you play against teams that have a lot of speedy wingers and attacking players, it is good to get extra players in the backline. I think it worked well for us.”
And while much of the focus in the locker room was on Lade’s beautifully-struck goal, the shift put in by Muyl was not overlooked by head coach Chris Armas. Muyl’s inclusion in the Starting XI wasn’t a shock as he is a regular for the Red Bulls — but where he lined up was the surprise.
That he got the start on the outside of the backline over Michael Amir Murillo, an MLS All-Star a year ago, was a roll of the dice from Armas, who said, “what you see is what you get with Alex.”
“He understands how we play,” Armas continued about Muyl in his post-match press conference. “He has certain qualities with the ball that showed up [Saturday]. His tactical understanding of what was going to be required; the engine required on the night, sometimes wide, sometimes rotating interior alongside Sean Davis.
“What makes Alex maybe different and special for us is his will to win. There’s a lot of competitors out there in this league and we think he’s a winner. He’s not just a guy that fights and runs around. He does a lot more than that. He continues to grow. When you see him late in the game, as tired as he is, making the plays that he’s making, in and around the defensive box, getting the other way, I think that his value showed up on the night.”
A former forward in college at Georgetown, Muyl moved to the wing upon his arrival in MLS three years ago. Known for his high work rate and industry in the team’s counter-pressing, he has shown over the past year a growing comfort on the ball. He is more than just a hustle player, a fact evidenced by several strong offensive performances this year.
His service on the game’s lone goal overshadowed a match where he continually drove into the final third, taking on defenders and stretching the field.
Wingback may not be his final position, but Muyl showed versatility on Saturday night and that he can be an asset playing what is a relatively new position.
“I think ultimately I’ll play anywhere,” Muyl said. “It doesn’t matter to me.
“You saw Amir come in and do really well. Wherever it helps the team, at the end of the day getting wins is the most important. I’m comfortable playing in a lot of spots. I think it will help me.”