By DAN MONTESANO
HARRISON, New Jersey– Connor Lade is very aware of his size.
He understands that, more often than not, each time he steps onto the field he will be the shortest one out there. It's been this way his entire life, and now that he's midway into his rookie season with the Red Bulls, he knows things aren't about to change.
So at 5-foot-5, the New York Red Bulls rookie is acutely aware of his lack of height. He just doesn't care.
"I'm a small guy, I've been fighting all my life against bigger guys, so I just try to use my pace and work hard," Lade said after his standout performance in the Red Bulls' 2-0 victory against Philadelphia on Saturday.
The Red Bulls' midfielder is a compact ball of energy and aggression. And he's become a nightmare for opposing defenders. Lade constantly pressures the ball, pushes forward and creates scoring chances for his more high-profile teammates like Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper.
"Coach just wants me to cause as much trouble as I can and create space for Thierry, Kenny and Sebastien to work their magic on the ball," Lade said. "If I find good spots and give them room, then I've done my job."
As the MLS All-Star game approaches on Wednesday, the Red Bulls find themselves near the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Forwards Henry and Cooper have combined for 23 goals to lead the way for New York, but Henry knows the contributions from Lade have been critical to the team's success thus far.
"He's been a revelation,he fights for every ball, he wants to win, he has everything you want to see," said Henry. "I love the guy, he has everything you want in a player."
Lade has been thrust into action for New York amid a rash of injuries, and has now firmly planted himself into the Red Bulls' lineup. Despite playing fullback during his career at St. John's, Lade has been pushed up to the midfield by head coach Hans Backe. Lade's ability to use his speed down the left wing has created space for Henry and Cooper to operate and create scoring chances.
Lade showed his ability in Sunday's 2-0 over Philadelphia, as he set up New York's first goal when he sent in a perfectly placed cross from the left wing into the box that was headed in by Cooper.
In addition to Lade, defender Brandon Barklage and goalkeeper Ryan Meara have also been valuable newcomers for New York. While Meara has been sidlined with a hip injury and Barklage left Sunday's game with a hamstring injury, it has been Lade who continues to provide New York with energy and pace to close out games.
The Red Bulls sorely lacked depth last season, and when injuries and international call ups decimated the roster, New York was left with limited options off the bench. This season, while still early, contributions from players like Lade have made the Red Bulls dangerous and a legitimate threat in the East.
"When you go into the third game of the week, you need that kind of attitude and spirit," said Backe. "(Connor) is a non-stop runner and a really, really hard worker. When you go into this third game, it's all about the right attitude and spirit."
Lade's energy and willingness to contribute on the field in any way he can has given the Red Bulls every reason to believe they can remain near in the East.
"Connor is maybe the type of player we didn't have in the past," said Henry. "When we are a bit tired and dealing with injuries, Connor is coming in and helping us."