Brandon Barklage typifies the league's make-up
30 June ~ Every pessimistic football fan knows the sort of player. The one who spectacularly and unexpectedly turns in a matchwinning performance for your opponents: a striker that hasn’t scored for several games, a midfielder recently panned in the media, an unknown youth player or a defender once rejected by your own club. This feeling of trepidation only increases in big games. Last Sunday, Brandon Barklage – a right-back released by DC United in December then signed by the New York Red Bulls in March – won a highly contested match for his new club against his old one.
Barklage was signed by the Red Bulls as a squad player but became a regular starter following an injury crisis at the club. Without their more vaunted names and headline-hogging designated players, the team went on a five-game winning run. A makeshift defence kept three consecutive clean sheets and Barklage surprised most observers with a series of calm and collected performances. But on Sunday he really announced himself to MLS.
After DC United had scored after only 30 seconds, Barklage equalised with an acrobatic volley on 20 minutes. Then, in first-half injury-time, he produced an even better finish to put his side ahead. Barklage went on to make several vital tackles in the second half as the Red Bulls clung on to win 3-2, avenging a 4-1 thrashing by DC in April.
Barklage’s story reveals lots about MLS. In a league of mixed ability, a relatively unknown player is more likely to make an instant impact. His attitude and salary are also refreshing. After the match, he claimed he “didn’t see the ball” for his first goal. And, with all the MLS pay packets publicly available, it is easy to find out that Barklage’s base salary is $44,000 (£28,000).
North American attempts to manufacture derby matches can sometimes be difficult to take seriously. The Trillium Cup, for example, is contested between Toronto and Columbus (over 400 miles apart) and named after the official flower of both Ontario and Ohio. But the rivalry between the New York Red Bulls and DC United, present since the establishment of MLS in 1996, is full of genuine intensity. Thanks to Barklage, the Atlantic Cup now has another episode to add to its ever-growing collection. Ed Upright