When you think about the New York Red Bulls’ massive win over Club Tijuana, the “usual suspects” spring to min: Bradley Wright-Phillips, Luis Robles, and Daniel Royer.
While those players were a big part of the result in the series against the Xolos, one guy who deserves more credit for his performance is Florian Valot.
“Flo”, as the team calls him, was thrust into the central midfield role occupied by Marc Rzatkowski after the latter was forced off through injury in leg one of the Concacaf Champions League quarterfinal series. Valot transitioned seamlessly into the role and notched an assist on the second goal of the match.
Not to be outdone, he was a standout in the second leg of the series, helping to maintain possession and partnering with Tyler Adams as a means to calm the game down while letting the Red Bulls find their offensive rhythm.
“When the game was a little bit crazy in the first half, it was him and Tyler that were able to settle the game down for us,” said Jesse Marsch in the post game press conference. “I referenced that at half time. I said, ‘hey guys, if you don’t have solutions then Tyler and Flo are having a good game, they’re able to slow things down, now give them the ball and start to move off of them and you’ll find it’ll come back to you.’ ”
Valot’s defensive work was equally important on the night, as the Xolos never imposed as much danger as they had in the first leg after the Red Bulls equalized in the 28th minute. Valot finished the match with nine recoveries, two clearances, and two interceptions.
Even more remarkably, just five months ago, Valot was not even sure if he would still be playing for Red Bull as his two-year contract with the New York Red Bulls II was coming to an end, even during a great run of form to finish the season.
“For the past two months, I haven’t been thinking about it,” said Valot during post match comments last October. “I just want to enjoy maybe my last few weeks, few months here. I don’t want to leave with regrets.”
Following up his comments in an interview on Raising Bulls last year, he said, “My future is not in my hands right now. I’ve done everything I could. I’m here right now, and I’ll still be here until the end of this season. I want to play soccer after this season, that’s the only thing I’m good at. It’s what I love to do.”
Valot was part of a number of signings the Red Bulls made from their USL affiliate New York Red Bulls II in the offseason, a move criticized by fans as teams around MLS were splashing cash for big name foreign signings. So far, those young players have made a big impact for the Red Bulls in 2018.
While players like Vincent Bezecourt, and Derrick Etienne were already receiving praise and playing time, Valot flew under the radar, partly because Jesse Marsch viewed him as a project, but he is pleased with how he has blossomed after spending two years in USL.
“So, Flo has been a project of unlocking the potential,” said Marsch. “Because we saw from the first day that I met him at our Red Bull combine in zero-degree weather, right away you could see this kid had talent. It’s just been about incorporating him in what we do and then unlock the mental and psychological piece to help free him to play the way that we know he can.”
Marsch knows, however, that there is still work to be done to get Valot to where he envisions him to be.
“I don’t think we’re done yet, there’s more growth. We’ve now managed to get him to a place where he knows that he belongs here, he has a high level of confidence in himself and it’s all grounded in things that are real. So, the potential for him in this season and moving forward is really big. Happy to see him playing well.”