As Alex Muyl raced away in celebration of his first goal of the year, he held his hands up to his ears. The message was clear.
“I hear you”.
New York Red Bulls’ fans have long been critical of the 22 year-old midfielder’s play and inclusion in the starting lineup. Muyl’s gesture was a clear sign that he has heard the feedback, even if he didn’t want to admit it after the match.
“The celebration was good,” said Muyl from the locker room after the match. “The fans were all yelling, and I was happy to hear that.”
Manhattan-born Alex Muyl’s MLS career has been a bit of a rollercoaster. Three years ago, the sky was the limit for the midfielder, scoring his first goal in the away leg of the Hudson River Derby against New York City FC and earning a starting spot for the Red Bulls by July.
During his spell of first team minutes to finish the 2016 season, the Red Bulls went on a 16-game undefeated streak finishing as the top seed in the Eastern Conference and rolling into the playoffs.
Since then, it has been a mixed bag for Muyl. Inconsistency saw him in and out of the lineup, and with the Red Bulls retooling for the 2018 season, it seemed like Muyl might be the odd man out after positive early returns from Derrick Etienne Jr and Ben Mines.
Muyl seemed to seal his fate being removed at halftime during the Red Bulls second leg Concacaf Champions quarterfinal matchup against Club Tijuana.
However, Jesse Marsch did not share the same view.
“He’s hard on himself that he doesn’t put together enough final plays,” said Marsch during the postgame press conference. “I keep saying to him, relax. That part comes and I’ve seen him enough in training and watched him enough over the last few years to know that he has quality.
“So he’s an important guy here, and he has to remain patient at times because we’ve used different guys at different times and we’ll use him at different moments but he’s very important around here and really happy for him.”
Overall, the Red Bulls have seemingly built tremendous depth in the squad in 2018, and the ability to rely on a variety of players is at the forefront of the youth revolution within the squad. While it may be hard to remember sometimes during his third season, Muyl is still a young player. Learning and growing in the game is rarely a smooth process.
More than any other quality, Jesse Marsch sees Muyl as a player that embodies the Red Bull philosophy, and that adds value to the player and club. Marsch even went as far as to compare Muyl and his efforts to Red Bull Leipzig’s Yusef Poulsen.
“You know, it’s funny because obviously around here, we were big fans of Leipzig,” continued Marsch after the match. “We watched them a lot and we talked with the people over there a lot, and the guy they have over there is a guy named Yussuf Poulsen. He doesn’t always score a lot of goals and doesn’t always add up to a lot of final plays, but they always say he’s one of their most players.
“We think that about, Alex, right. He doesn’t always get the headlines and he doesn’t always get the accolades and goals, but in terms of setting the standard of how we want the game to be played tactically and philosophically, he’s incredibly important, and he often frees up space for our other, more talented, like scorers and things like that because he can harbor a lot of the workload, draw attention at times, and do the dirty work for them to now score goals and set plays up.”
Muyl’s self assessment remained grounded after his best performance of the young season was sufficiently reflective and humble. He clearly understands that one performance does not change the narrative built around him.
“It’s been a process for me,” said Muyl. “It’s still a process. One good game doesn’t change anything. I’m definitely not going to think I’m the greatest player in the world, but I think it was a good step forward for me. It’s just a learning process for me. Getting to play free and play like myself is a good feeling.”