Heading into Sunday's match with D.C. United, the Red Bulls were forced to make changes to the regular starting lineup. Wingers Alex Muyl and Mike Grella were carrying one-match suspensions due to yellow card accumulation. Their replacements, Gonzalo Veron and Daniel Royer, played a role in both goals, nearly leading the Red Bulls to victory.
Veron, for all of the talk about his speed and technical ability, scored a goal based on pure hustle and will. There have been questions regarding his effort, but his performance against D.C. should do a lot to silence them. In previous matches at winger, Veron tended to get isolated and limited to few opportunities. On Sunday, the Argentine Designated Player was constantly moving from one end of the field to the other and forced his way onto the scoresheet.
"I thought it was great for Gonzalo to get a goal," Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch said in his post-match press conference. "We've been working on our outside midfielders joining in on the back post, being able to score goals like that."
There's still room for improvement, as Veron was still significantly less involved in the buildup and attack than his teammates. According to WhoScored, he had 27 touches, equal with goalkeeper Luis Robles. By comparison, Royer, playing on the opposite side of the field, had 58 touches. Veron is an undeniable talent, but the Red Bulls need to continue finding ways to get him more involved.
Royer - who shows no signs of adjustment struggles despite joining the team in August - made his first MLS start and put in a very impressive performance. He was very active on both sides of the ball, getting involved in the attack and forcing several turnovers on defense. Most importantly, the Austrian winger made the perfect pass on Bradley Wright-Phillips' goal.
Royer showed incredible composure on the 5 v. 3 breakout, waiting for what seemed to be an eternity before playing the perfect through ball out wide. Many players would have panicked in that situation, misplaying the ball or ceding responsibility to someone else with a momentum killing layoff. His delayed pass was reminiscent of a similar counter attack that Red Bulls fans should remember fondly: the Peguy Luyindula assist to Lloyd Sam for the game winning goal in the 2013 Supporters' Shield clinching win over Chicago.
After Sunday's performance, it's hard to imagine Royer staying out of the starting lineup for much longer. It appears that he's a perfect fit for the Red Bulls' high pressing strategy and can be relied on to add another dimension to the attack.
"I thought Danny Royer was very good," said Marsch after the match. "Thought he fit into the team really well, understood the tactics…. I think he showed in all ways he's a guy we're going to be able to count on. That was a real bright aspect of today."
Further contributions from Royer and Veron are necessary because the upcoming schedule is crowded and the playoffs are on the horizon. The Red Bulls have two matches in the next seven days, playing Antigua FC in the Champions League on Thursday and Toronto FC in MLS play on Sunday. Royer and Veron (and possibly striker Omer Damari) will have another chance to demonstrate their value and earn a spot in the starting lineup. Every season teams in MLS struggle with the salary cap and roster limit to build a deep squad, but it appears that the Red Bulls have plenty of attacking options that can contribute.