Alex Muyl Credits Red Bull Veterans for His Success
October 17, 2016
WHEN DISCUSSING the 2016 Major League Soccer rookie class, Alex Muyl's name does not get mentioned first, if at all. But perhaps that needs to change.
The New York Red Bull's homegrown midfielder has displaced a designated player in the starting lineup of the all-but-certain Eastern Conference champions and now has high ambitions for the playoffs and CONCACAF Champions League.
Muyl, 21, signed for the Red Bulls last winter after developing in the club’s academy and playing for Georgetown University where he led the team in assists in each of his three seasons. At the Red Bulls, it did not take him long to break into the team and begin making an impact. He notched his first assists in April during a 4-0 drubbing of FC Dallas. He scored his first goal a month later in the now-famous 7-0 rout over New York City FC.
On a talented team that includes Sacha Kljestan, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Dax McCarty, and Felipe, Muyl has not only fit in, but contributed as well in his rookie season—even surpassing designated player Gonzalo Veron. Muyl credits the team’s veteran leadership for his success.
“It makes the transition harder,” Muyl said, referring to the team's veterans. “They don’t care if you’re a rookie of if you’re having an off day, they expect you to perform. They hold everyone to a high standard. You have to gain their trust and I didn’t want to let those guys down. It has helped me grow so much more. It’s going to be so valuable in my career.
"They’re leaders for a reason.”
Since its inaugural season in 1996, the Red Bulls/Metrostars organization has a long history of providing the first professional stop for local talent such as Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Eddie Gaven, Jozy Altidore, Juan Agudelo, and Matt Miazga.
Unlike those New Jersey-based players, Muyl grew up and still lives on the Lower East Side of Manhattan—hardly a soccer hotbed.
He began playing the sport because of his older sister, but it quickly became his passion. With a French-born father and annual childhood trips to France, he did not have to look far for inspiration and watching the 2006 French national team is still a favorite memory.
But playing the sport in New York City took effort as finding facilities and games was a real challenge. Muyl frequently made trips outside the five boroughs to compete.
Often, however, he would develop his skills playing futsal or other variations of the sport in venues like middle school gymnasiums or Manhattan rooftops.
“I used to think kids in Florida must be so good,” Muyl recalled with a laugh. “They get to play on grass most of the time. But playing in these different type of environments really helped me….At Chelsea Piers they had these walls on the side of the field you would hit balls against. One time this kid we were playing against had a broken arm and a buddy of mine checked him against those walls and broke his other arm. It was sometimes crazy and dangerous.”
But playing for the Red Bull Academy, where he led the U-16 team to the national championship and scored the game winner in the final, Muyl found a way to develop into a top player for his age group. One particular highlight came in 2011 when he was the captain of the United States U-17 team in for a tournament in France—and many of his French family were able to attend.
A turning point for Muyl came when he was recruited to go to Georgetown University. While his talent was never in question, his attitude was. It was during his years as a Hoya when he made an important personal transformation.
“Most of all at Georgetown I grew as a person,” Muyl acknowledged. “Now people talk about me being humble and hard working in my rookie year. It’s weird for me because when I was in the Red Bull Academy, that’s the last thing people would use to describe me. I had a reputation of being a little bit cocky, a little bit full of myself, sometimes lazy. Being at Georgetown was really a maturing process. Even in my freshman year, I don’t think I was always the best teammate. Through my years there, I realized that if I wanted to do the best for myself, I had to make the team better. I had to rethink the way I was acting and the way I was presenting myself.
"It was huge for me.”
The Red Bull staff is quick to acknowledge that Muyl has been a big part of the team’s turnaround this season after the awful 1-6 start. His work-rate and defense have been instrumental in the second half of the season and his passing, a strong point in college, is steadily improving. Essentially, he has emerged as the team’s X-factor.
On Sunday against Columbus, Muyl played an enormous role in the 3-2 win when he drew a penalty and assisted on Bradley Wright-Phillips decisive goal.
“Alex has done so many things to establish himself with our team and to make us good,” head coach Jesse Marsch said. “That's what we've been telling him. You do a million things in the game to make us good—the ground you cover, the way you compete, the battles you win in your part of the field. It's amazing. And then we're just continuing to challenge him to slow down in certain moments.
“Now, moving forward, that's the key,” he added. “Without him taking his foot off the pedal in terms of the pure work rate he puts in, can he still find times to just put a few more attacking plays together that can lead to more chances and more goals.”
Predicting the long-term future of MLS rookies is a fool's errand, and Muyl is quick to temper expectations. When asked about representing his country again at the senior level at a January camp (where his ability to work hard on both sides of the ball resembles what Klinsmann likes in midfielders) or maybe using his French passport in the future to facilitate a move abroad, Muyl acknowledges both interest him but he is only focused on the next game.
But as the playoffs approaching, Muyl could be ready to step into the spotlight as the Red Bulls are strong contenders to bring MLS Cup to the New York area for the first time. With the team’s historical success with local talent, Muyl is motivated to be the first homegrown to significantly contribute to the league’s biggest trophy.
“I’m definitely playing much more than I ever expected to be playing in my rookie year,” Muyl said. “When you first come up, you almost make yourself worse because you’re so worried about making mistakes. It’s a process to not get caught up in it. In the past few weeks I’m feeling really comfortable and worrying less.”
“It’s a very positive mindset around the team,” He added. “We have an 19-game unbeaten streak. While we’re really happy with that, we still feel like we can be better. We haven’t been consistent but when we’re playing at the level we know we can, there is no one that can keep up with us.”