When New York City signed R.J. Allen in May and started him less than a week later, I had a theory.
This theory was borne out of watching the Monmouth grad flail about like a well-meaning but skittish house pet, sprinting empty-headed up and down the right wing while Lloyd Sam beat him like he was eggs.
Amid a string of disastrous results, I could only assume that one of two things had to be true:
- Allen had compromising photos of Claudio Reyna. Like, he saw him eating at Olive Garden or something.
- Terminally ill, he was contacted by the Make a Wish Foundation and given the opportunity to live out his dream of playing close enough to Mix Diskerud to smell his hair.
- New York City proved it can win a massive game without the services of David Villa, their leading scorer and captain.
"In his 2,200 MLS minutes, split between New England and NYCFC, Mullins has 9 goals and 6 assists (one of those coming in MLS Cup). He's also drawn a penalty and set one up. He back-pressures at a high level, he runs the channels, he combines with David Villa. To put Mullins' numbers in perspective: Octavio Rivero has 10 goals and 3 assists in 2,264 minutes this season; Will Bruin has 10g/2a in 1,887; and Dom Dwyer has 9g/2a in 2,080. Mullins is rarely mentioned in the same breath as those guys, but perhaps he should be. Perhaps he's being underrated once again, as he was coming out of college despite all his success and accolades, and as he was ahead of last year's expansion draft."
- R.J. Allen probably won't become a world-beater, but his frequent touches, off-the-ball runs, and defensive legwork were essential in securing Wednesday's big win.
How? AND FROM WHENCE?
That assist was sexy, 'tis true, but let's get to the really sexy part:
- Allen took 56 touches, which ranked second on the team behind the Bearded One.
- He was routinely involved in the action; in addition to his assist, he led NYCFC in both defensive clearances and tackles.
- He tied with Jason Hernandez for the team lead in interceptions.
Allen's clearances (purple), interceptions (green), and tackles (blue) against TFC.
Yikes! A superlative performance from a fullback whom Claudio Reyna pulled off the street? A man could get used to that.
- NYCFC figured out the right division of labor in the midfield-- Pirlo and Lampard ran the show centrally, Jacobson carried the ball forward and fired shots, and Mix Diskerud stuck to the wings without drifting. Both wings, somehow.
- He was able to provide linking support not just for Allen but also left fullback Chris Wingert, whose skills on the ball are limited. With Mix in tow, Wingert was free to press much further forward.
- Since Mix only pinched into the middle to provide support in NYCFC's own half, deep man Andrew Jacobson had room maraud up the center of the pitch on the attack like some kind of banshee, or perhaps a man whose hair is on fire but doesn't care.