Entering his second year with the Red Bulls, Karl Ouimette was firmly established as the fourth choice center back behind Ronald Zubar, Damien Perrinelle and Gideon Baah (taking the spot of the departed Matt Miazga). However, after a series of injuries to everyone ahead of him in the depth chart, Ouimette is now the team's first option.
Despite making only a combined 22 MLS appearances in 2014 and 2015, the 23-year old center back put in a strong performance during the Red Bulls' 1-0 loss to the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium on a windy Friday night in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The pairing of Ouimette and Kemar Lawrence, who suffered an injury and was replaced in the 58th minute by Chris Duvall, was successful in disrupting New England's shots on goal and counter-attacking, and should have earned their club a scoreless draw if not for Diego Fagundez's fluke goal in the 55th minute.
Ouimette drew post-match praise from manager Jesse Marsch, who said it was "his best game as a Red Bulls player." The Canadian center back was also singled out for his aerial dominance and for shutting down the vaunted Revolution attack featuring Fagundez, Lee Nguyen and Juan Agudelo.
Going forward, the Red Bulls need Ouimette to provide leadership and stop attacks as they attempt to patch together a back line. New York plays a gegenpressing style in which the attackers, midfielders and fullbacks push high up the field in an attempt to win the ball back immediately after losing possession. This "high-press" style puts a premium on center backs to play mistake-free as they will often be left isolated and outnumbered facing fast breaks when the press is broken.
Marsch signed Ouimette to his first professional contract in 2012, a homegrown deal with the Montreal Impact, and brought him in when he took the Red Bulls job last season. After a year of mop up duty and time spent with the reserves, it appears the manager's faith is paying off.
Ouimette, himself, seems to understand his role, and knows it is his job to step up amid the injury crisis hitting the back line.
"I think me, Kemar, Dax, the entire backline helped a lot," Ouimette said to Red Bulls communications specialist Eric Giacometti after the game.
"We didn't give them many chances apart from the goal. I don't remember a lot of shots on goal, no breakaways, nothing. Everyone was solid defensively tonight, but we get scored on by a crazy goal."
It's unknown with whom Ouimette will partner on the back line next Saturday when the Red Bulls play Sporting Kansas City, but for now, despite the rash of injuries, the defense appears to have secure footing.