HARRISON, N.J. — Connor Lade had a lot of things he wanted to do when he scored his first MLS goal. In the end, the diminutive fullback was overtaken by the immensity of the moment.
Lade opened his scoring account in league play on Wednesday night, and did not celebrate it as he imagined he might. He was too overwhelmed with happiness. Lade’s goal was his first in MLS in his five seasons as a professional, and, more importantly, it gave the New York Red Bulls a permanent lead in a much-needed 2-0 home win over Orlando City.
The 26-year-old left back buried the decisive goal at Red Bull Arena in impressive fashion, too. This was not tap-in or lucky deflection. Rather, it was a one-timed shot he smashed from just inside the penalty area into the top left corner of the net following a corner kick.
The whirlwind of emotions ruined his celebration plans, which included going to the corner flag to simulate the handshake he used to do with traded ex-teammate Lloyd Sam. Nonetheless, it was a memorable moment for Lade in a season that has seen him fly under the radar despite his string of solid performances for the Red Bulls.
“It’s been a good run of games. I feel more and more comfortable every single day,” Lade told SBI. “It’s always nice when you get a good run of games to kind of get that rhythm and build that chemistry with the team because sometimes it’s difficult coming in. I’m just really happy and I’m going to try to keep being as consistent as possible and try to help the team in any way I can. It’s a big win tonight and I’m happy.”
In years past, the versatile Lade has been used predominantly as a fill-in at a number of positions. He has bounced around from left back to left midfield to right back to center midfield, and done so without as much of a whimper.
This season, however, Lade seems to have really found his rhythm at left back, which is where he found a good bit of success in his rookie campaign. Lade has started at that position ever since incumbent Kemar Lawrence went down with an injury a couple of months ago, and the American has kept a stranglehold on it with trademark blue-collared outings that have helped the Red Bulls post five cleansheets since May 21.
As was the case in his first two pro seasons — when he played a lot of fullback for the club — teams still tend to target him due to his diminutive height, which is officially listed at a generous 5-foot-7. Opponents send a lot of long balls and crosses in his direction to try to pick on his stature, but he has held up this year due to help from his teammates and his own competitive will.
“I feel sometimes they’re still coming down that side in the air a lot intentionally, but I welcome those challenges,” said Lade. “Obviously when a team gameplans like that you take it personally, so it kind of lights a fire under you. I’m almost excited when they start doing that because I know I’m going to get a lot of action. It’s something you just learn to adjust with and you’ve just got to roll with the punches and come on top of every battle.”
Lade’s team-first mentality and willingness to do whatever is asked of him has attributed to him starting in 11 matches this year, and he is currently on pace to play in the most amount of games in a single season since his rookie campaign in 2012.
His workmanlike contributions, which also include regularly getting forward to serve as an outlet for midfielders, draw rave reviews from his teammates and head coach Jesse Marsch, who admitted on Wednesday that MLS clubs have tried prying Lade away at times when he has gone unused by the first team.
“There’s also a lot of teams that call and inquire about him,” said Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch when asked if Lade flies under the radar. “There’s enough people that respect him and know that he’s a quality guy and a very reliable outside back.
“Nobody’s getting him from us. We’re keeping him.”
Lade wants it that way, too. The former Homegrown Player has spent his entire career with the Red Bulls and has enjoyed plenty of special moments, including making his professional debut and lifting two Supporters’ Shields.
Wednesday’s goal was just the latest to add to the list.
“It’s always nice to be wanted, for sure, but obviously this is the club I dreamt of playing for my whole life,” said Lade. “To be here I’m very lucky and I can’t really picture myself anywhere else. This is my home, this my hometown team, and the team that I love. For Jesse to say that, it makes me feel really good and there’s no other place I’d rather be.”