Photo by Howard C. Smith/ISIphotos.com
By DAVE MARTINEZ
The New York Red Bulls’ home opener took on a special meaning for Wilman Conde. The Colombian defender’s re-integration to Major League Soccer also marked a return to competition after nearly a year away from the game.
“The plan was to see how my body would respond a full 90 minutes, and thank God, I responded well,” Conde said after the match. “It was a tense, anxiety filled game for me, with many emotions. I’m happy for the team. We did a good job.”
Conde last played a professional soccer match on April 9 of last year. Starting for Atlas, the bruising Colombian defender faced an Atlante team that would go on to steamroll his Guadalajaran side 3-1. A lackluster performance saw the big man pulled after the opening 45 minutes.
The following week, while preparing for the teams next fixture, he would pick up an injury in training that would force him to undergo surgery and abandon the final matches of the Mexican Clausura tournament, along with the entirety of the following Apertura season as well.
An emotional departure from Atlas led him back to MLS and into the arms of a team he once pined to join.
“I am very happy to be here. It’s been a long time that I have wanted to come to New York,” Conde said. “It’s a dream come true, and more than that, to be back on the pitch for a full 90 minutes is a great thrill for me.”
Conde displayed calmness on the backline that was infectious amongst his teammates during New York's 4-1 route of the Colorado Rapids. He took on a leadership position in organizing the defense and played a physical role against the opposing attackers. For a man who hadn’t played in months, he looked like he never left the game.
“I think we maintained the order and we played like we were a family," Conde said. "If someone lost the ball, we fought for every ball like we were brothers and that speaks highly of the team.
“We did a very good job on defense, and the defense begins with the attack, so the work of Kenny (Cooper) and (Thierry) Henry was fundamental to us. We started on the right foot in the first 10, 15 minutes with the opening goals and that helped us greatly.”
After the match, Backe labeled Conde’s play as “massive.” To the Colombian defender, it was a compliment he wouldn’t take lightly.
“It’s a big responsibility,” Conde said. “We are just getting started, and there are a lot of matches left, so I hope we can keep up the level and improve it because there is still a lot more to give.”
As for the condition of his health after enduring a complete game, he painted a positive picture.
“Right now, my body is saying to eat well and get some rest,” Conde said with a smile. “No pain, just a little bit tired. Obviously, after not playing a full 90 in so long, I need a little rest, but everything is perfect.”
For Red Bull fans, that is perhaps the best prognosis they could ask for.