Revolution

Sweeney: For Brian Wright and Isaac Angking, it was a week to remember

New England Revolution

FOXBOROUGH — The important moments in one’s life are collected like snapshots and kept in scrapbooks, dusty as they can get as time passes us by. We’re certain, though, that when Revolution forward Brian Wright and Homegrown midfielder Isaac Angking look back on the past week — this incredibly important week in their respective careers — they will recall every tiny instance of it, even when they are a tad older, bouncing grandkids on their knees.

From getting the call to start for the first time to making one’s MLS debut, from scoring his first professional goal to scoring his first goal at the international level, it was without a doubt a heckuva week for both Wright and Angking.

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Last Wednesday, Sept. 5 started like any other day for Wright. He woke up and had breakfast with the team in their New York hotel — the team had taken a train into the city the afternoon before — before heading to the team’s pre-match meeting around 10:30 a.m.

It was there, with the lineup up on the screen, that he learned that with Teal Bunbury unavailable due to a knock suffered in training and with the short turn-around between the match the previous Saturday against Portland Timbers and this night, he would get his first MLS start against New York City FC.

“They told us the lineup a little earlier in the day than normal,” Wright said, “but we were together as a team. They gave the lineup on the screen when we were talking about tactics.

“I was happy to be able to get my first start.”

“Brian’s been knocking on the door for some time now,” Revolution gaffer Brad Friedel said. “He’s been training very, very well, and he’s been finishing very well in training. And with the culmination of the injury, it was the perfect time to start him.”

Over the next few hours, Wright relaxed, much in the same way he normally does; he chilled with road roommate Juan Agudelo, and caught a little of the US Open on television.

“On a regular game day, we have downtime: relaxing, laying down, watching TV, and as the time gets closer to the game, I’m preparing mentally,” he said. “I was preparing for my first start and all, so I started visualizing about the game and what I think might happen.”

Once at Yankee Stadium and the Revs went through pre-match warm-ups, returned to the locker room, then walked back out onto the small Bronx pitch to get the game started. In those first few minutes, Wright introduced himself to the Cityzens a couple of times, drawing some fouls.

“The first few minutes, usually when young guys get their first start, the first few minutes they try to get the jitters out with a bad few touches, which I had a few of those,” he said. “As the game kept going, I got it out of the way.”

He did, and settled into the game rather quickly.

And in the 25th minute, he almost dented twine for what would have been his first goal in Major League Soccer.

“New York stepped their line up and Brad (Knighton) hit a long ball,” he explained of the scenario in front of the left-field seats. “I was chasing it down, and with how fast I got to the ball, it didn’t settle nice for me to take it off my chest; the two centerbacks were covering. I saw Kelyn (Rowe), he was on my right, and I tried to nod it to him and in front of him so he could shoot first time.

“(NYC defender Ben) Sweat got back and tried to clear it, but it landed right to me, and I shook it the first time, and how I felt like I shook it, it felt good coming off my foot. I thought it was going side netting, but I saw it hit the post I thought it would go in the other side. It hit the other post and came out.

“I thought it was a really good opportunity. Obviously, I would have loved to have that one, but I can’t dwell on it the rest of the game because I might miss my next opportunity.”

As the game progressed, the humid air over the Harlem River affected quite a few of the players, Wright included. He would signal toward the bench in the early goings of the second half that he would need a sub.

Friedel looked toward Angking, the 18-year-old Homegrown midfielder from Providence. Angking started warming up.

It would, however, take a while for the Ocean State native to loosen up. Wright had to endure and fight through it: the Revs had already made two subs, with Diego Fagundez coming on for Cristhian Machado at the start of the second half, and they had Agudelo subbing for Wilfried Zahibo in the 58th minute.

“Right when Brian signaled over and told us that he’s cramping,” Friedel recalled, “we started talking. Because it was such a small field, we wanted to put someone on the field that was very good on the ball; I’ve said it many, many times, I don’t care how old a player is — if they’re ready, they’re ready, and we felt it was a perfect opportunity to put Isaac in the game.”

It was around this time that back in Foxborough, Revs Academy training sessions were just finishing up for the night at Gillette Stadium.

And with Angking loosening and getting ready to get on, Revolution Academy director and U15 gaffer Bryan Scales wanted to get home rather quickly — so, too, did the players under his charge — to watch Angking make his debut.

Scales admitted that he had just walked in the door as Wright achieved the moment: Fagundez had passed over to Cristian Penilla, who rifled his shot at NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson. The shot didn’t have a lot of pace behind it, and Johnson had stopped it. He didn’t firmly corral it, though, and the rebound went straight back toward the middle of the field.

Wright was in the right spot, and with astounding reflexes popped it up with his instep and in.

He said it was a mix of both the luck of the draw and perfect positioning that helped in that situation in the 70th minute.

“I wasn’t sure if Penilla would cross it or shoot it,” he explained of the build-up. “Juan was behind me; I was the near post guy and Juan was the far post guy. If (Johnson) parried it further away, Juan would have been there, but luckily with how he parried it, it landed right to me and I just tried to get my foot up quickly and just pop it up a little bit. Luckily I was able to do that.

“Definitely seeing the first one going in is a confidence booster. You love seeing the ball hit the back of the net.”

https://twitter.com/MLS/status/1037500750270590976

Replays showed Wright heading to the right field corner to begin his long-awaited celebration with a leap and a fist pump; Fagundez joined him and embraced him, patting him on the back of his head as he bent over to soak it in.

“It was a relief moment, to be honest. To finally get my first goal after getting more minutes this year, and coming in my first start. Getting one, to get the first one out of the way, whether it’s a really nice goal or an ugly goal. Sometimes as long as it gets in to get it rolling a little bit,” he said.

It would be his last touch of the night, as Angking replaced him. Wright wished him luck before he went and took a seat on the bench.

“I thought Brian worked himself into the game,” Friedel said. “I thought he did pretty well. He held the ball up — it was very important on a small field like that that he was able to get first touches and flick on and hold the ball up, and for his debut with an MLS start, he put in a really good shift.”

In Massachusetts, Scales took a seat on his couch after walking into his house just as Wright scored.

“We had all of our teams training that night,” Scales recalled, “so I’m usually at almost all the training sessions, so I came home quickly after the 15s finished up.

“It was perfect timing.”

Then it was time to watch the most recent of four Revolution Homegrown players — players that grew up training under the Revs’ umbrella and are from the area — show their stuff for the first time.

[caption id="attachment_449638" align="alignnone" width="1600"] Isaac Angking worked hard during the preseason, but then suffered a non-soccer injury that kept him out of action for many months. He made his MLS debut last Wednesday. (Courtesy New England Revolution)[/caption]

In that time, cameras focused on Angking moving into position, directing traffic. He did this several times. Yet as time moved into the 80th minute of play, the Bronx Blues had put a lot of pressure on Knighton at the other side of the field. Yet with the ball going the other way midway through the 80th, the Revs nearly had a second goal.

And it was nearly scored by the debutante.

“Penilla cut to his right,” Angking recalled, “and shot it with his right, and I saw the ball had a deflection. All I knew was to go sprinting down to the ball, and I slid — I thought I got pulled back, so I was a little off-balance — and hit it with my left foot.”

It went off the upright, as near to an account opener as one can get without doing the deed.

“It would have been a dream debut for him,” Scales said. “Diego did that when he came on in his first game, so it would have been a great moment, but not unprecedented.”

“He did well for the last 20 minutes there,” Wright said of the youngster. “I don’t know how he felt with how he played or if he felt nervous or whatnot, but I thought he came in and did what he had to do. And he almost scored on his debut, as well, which would have been really nice. I know he wants that one back. I’m happy for him for making his professional debut.”

The gaffer said Angking did the job he needed to do.

“I thought Isaac did very well,” Friedel said. “He was a calming influence for us on the ball, he positioned himself very well. He was part of the solution we needed to kill off the clock those last 10 minutes.

“He did his job, came on, kept the ball, switched the point of attack which we desperately needed to do; we didn’t do a lot of that in the first half, and he was smart when he came on, and he just played to his strengths.”

According to Scales, Angking’s debut was not only great for the player himself — "I thought that he did well for a debut and for his first time getting into a game in a really, really important moment of the game, under pressure. I thought he gave a great account of himself,” he said — it was also a rather monumental occasion for the kids in the Revs Academy, especially the older ones who have been in the system for the last few years and got to know the Providence native.

“I wasn’t the only one who rushed home,” he said. “Those kids left quickly because they knew there was a chance that (Angking) would play, and I would say a majority of the kids, the older guys, 15 through 19, know Isaac very well from him being on the training field with them just a year ago, They were excited, and that gives them something tangible to see and feel knowing that could be them someday. It’s a great example for the rest of the guys in the Academy.”

With the match won, it was time to celebrate; Angking fired off a text to his mother — “My mom was happy; she was a little upset that I didn’t score. She texted me right away, ‘How come you didn’t score that?’ I told her why,” he said — and as Wright walked into the locker room, the Revolution players were quiet.

A little too quiet, in fact, for a team that had just snapped a nine-match winless skid.

“I walked in and saw how quiet it was,” Wright remembered, “I turned the corner and Diego had a water bottle in his hand, and I said ‘Okay, they’re going to wet me up.’ I didn’t know if it was going to be Diego or all of them, then they jumped around and soaked me.”

Video that defender Jalil Anibaba posted showed Agudelo on Wright’s back as the celebration began in earnest.

“We were on a run of nine winless games, to be able to get a huge result, on the road, at New York who hadn’t lost all season at home was a really good feeling,” Wright said.

He acknowledged that the New York win could be the start of a promising run for The Boys In Blue.

“I was talking about it with my teammates the other day: a lot of teams that do well in the playoffs are teams that catch fire toward the end of the season, and they go on a run,” he said. “We’ve kept saying all it takes it one game to really get it going, so we’re hoping to use this game to start a push for us not only to get into the playoffs, but to make a deep run.

“No one likes losing, obviously. Losing is contagious, but so is winning. This will help us with our confidence and get the ball rolling in the right direction again.”

The next morning, the club returned to Foxborough, minus one player — Angking, who was summoned to Florida in the days before the New York game to participate in US Soccer’s U19 camp at the IMG Academy in Bradenton.

While there, he would participate in three games: a 45-minute run-out against Venezuela on Friday, as well as an 85-minute start against the US U20s the following day.

Then on Monday, Angking delivered a 10th-minute penalty goal as the Americans beat Jamaica, 4-1, to claim the US Soccer U20 Invitational title. It was his first international goal, slotting it to the left of the keeper, after receiving several call-ups at the U14, U15, and U17 level prior to the non-soccer injury he sustained in pre-season and kept him out until midsummer.

Angking played the No. 10 role against Venezuela and against the U20s before playing the No. 8 against Jamaica, a match where he played the full 90.

He said that the run-out against NYCFC and the near-goal he scored gave him confidence headed to Florida, and the experience there — 220 minutes — was huge in his development.

“I went into my debut, I almost scored a goal, which built my confidence to go into U19 camp,” he said. “I balled out in the U19 camp, hopefully — at least I thought I did. But the confidence, I definitely brought the confidence down to U19 camp.

“Minutes anywhere I go is pretty big for me. I got my debut, which gave me a couple of minutes, and that built my confidence. I was definitely an incredible experience. Getting there, I had confidence. I knew most of the guys, so I was comfortable. I hadn’t been called back since U17 camp, so I had to prove myself in this camp, and hopefully I did.

“It was one of the biggest weeks I’ve had so far. Hopefully I can have a few more minutes on the field. With these last few games going, we’re pushing for a playoff spot.”

And while he has the playoffs with the Revs in his sights, he’s also keeping in the back of his mind the potential of playing for the US U20 team for the U20 World Cup qualifiers.

“Hopefully,” he said, “that all works out as planned.”