Andrés Reyes
New York Red Bulls defender Andrés Reyes plays the ball during a snowy match in Minnesota in March 2023 (Credit: New York Red Bulls)

New York Red Bulls’ defender Andrés Reyes had an productive March. Scoring the team’s first goal of the season against Minnesota United FC to salvage a draw seemed like a great start. Then last weekend his second half own goal against Charlotte FC left New York with another draw. All combined with his overall performance and it’s been an interesting month.

In the five games the team has played this season, Reyes has started each one. In all but one of them he’s gone the full 90 minutes. Heading into last week’s match, the Columbian ranked first in the league in challenges won with 58. That was according to a team media release however NYCSN could not find the date to fully prove that.

What can be proven is how important the center back has been in the early stages of 2023. Through their first four matches the Red Bulls defense allowed just six shots on target. That was the fewest through four matches of an MLS season since the LA Galaxy (six) in 2010. Against Charlotte, that number increased by only one. Reyes and fellow center Sean Nealis have been great in the back.

What’s been work well especially is the pressure those two put starting in the midfield. Working with the defensive midfielders, New York pressures attacks and pushes most offenses to the wings. From there, while players like John Tolkin or Cameron Harper play one on one, the centers have continued to disrupt attacks. Crosses in are finding Reyes’ head or Carlos Coronel’s gloves far more than any opposing player.

Even against Columbus in the team’s last home game this was ever present. Officially, the Crew held the ball significantly more than RBNY did. 2/3rds of the game saw the ball at a Crew player’s feet (officially). But that didn’t feel like the case. Because every time Columbus tried to get the ball into the New York end they rarely had success making progress.

Following the match against Minnesota, head coach Gerhard Struber didn’t hold back when speaking about Reyes.

“Andrés Reyes, was, again, in many defensive moments, a beast,” he said in a ZOOM press conference. “He was so clear in his personnel fights, his behavior against the ball is on a top level at the moment. He’s so reliable. For the backline, he has a big value that it’s so, so difficult to score against us. … In many, many directions, he’s very important. On set pieces, he uses his power and his quality to score. This is not a surprise for me. I see this in training often.”

That was, again, the game where his header off a corner kick leveled the score at 1-1. The first goal the Red Bulls got in 2023 competition after two full games and a half being held scoreless. Offense is never going to be Reyes’ main focus but he can help. Of the two shots on goal he has this season one went in. That doesn’t include the own goal against Charlotte which came after his attempt to block a pass into the box didn’t fully connect. Instead it redirected the ball into the open net, away for Coronel.

It’s interesting that Reyes was available for the Charlotte match at all. This past January, the defender was named to the Colombia men’s national team roster for its friendly against the United States. However in that game, which was played in California, Reyes never made it off the bench during the scoreless draw. Columbia had two friendlies in Asia during the March FIFA window and did not select Reyes for the team.

It remains to be seen if the former youth international makes his senior team appearance in 2023. As of now, Columbia only has important 2026 FIFA World Cup qualification matches on their schedule.

It’s incredibly early to say this. But after one month it’s realistic to say Reyes could be a contender for MLS Defender of the Year if he keeps up this pace. Baring injuries, his speed and strength on the ball are key reasons why New York has any points this year. The reason why the games the team has lost have all been low scoring. Hopefully he can keep it up against a resurging Atlanta United FC this weekend on the road.

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