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FLASHBACK: Remembering a fallen two-way winger from tiny Estonia, Joel Lindpere

Here is a Major League Soccer trivial pursuit question: who is the first player to score the first goal ever at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., in both an unofficial friendly and official regular season match?

No, the answer is not Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill or Juan Pablo Angel. The answer can be found somewhat farther away from goal, hustling up and down the left touch-line. It’s the pointy nose winger from the nation whose population is less than two million inhabitants, Joel Lindpere.

Before Lindpere, another left two-way winger graced the ugly turf of Giants Stadium. That, of course, was the great Dutch wizard, Dave Van Den Bergh. After his unceremonious and sudden departure, the void of an industrious, hard-working, yet technically skilled, outside midfielder appeared in the hearts of many New York Red Bull supporters.

A significant signing before the 2010 season occurred with a brief  press release. The General Manager and Sporting Director at the time, Erik Soler, most likely had not foreseen the impact his new player would have, despite his extensive scouting network in Scandinavia.  “Joel is an experienced midfielder who can play in many different positions,” said Soler. “We have watched him play for a long period of time and we are confident that he will be able to adjust to the MLS game.”

Then, in 2010, the inaugural game at the Arena had the team facing off against Brazilian powerhouse Santos, which included a relatively unknown Neymar. In front of a sold-out crowd, Lindpere lined up a free-kick opportunity just outside the box and struck the Adidas Jabulani low and hard into the wall. The ball ricocheted back to the debutante for him to rifle back into the net, past a motionless goalkeeper. History was made.

“[…] we are confident that he will be able to adjust to the MLS game.”

Soler probably never said a truer statement in his life. A week later, history repeated itself. Against the Chicago Fire, in the first ever league match at Red Bull Arena, Lindpere struck. Another rebound fell to the Estonian at the edge of the box. This time, with his weaker right foot, he unleashed a looping volley over the Fire goalkeeper that sailed into the top left corner. A replacement, two-way hero had arrived.

two-way winger usually earns that title because they are not accustomed to the outside midfield positions. Most likely, they are naturally central players, who, because of their dedication and hard work, are shifted wide left or right to provide another shield to the side’s defensive shape. What is lacked by a more attack-minded individual, is compensated by additional coverage protecting the goal. The fact that these players are capable of contributing anything offensively, especially by means of goals and assists, is an added bonus.

Like Johnny Steele and Eric Alexander in 2013, Lindpere and Van Den Bergh essentially became these surprise perks. Seen as safer options, they all consistently (sometimes inconsistently *cough, cough* Eric Alexander) scored and set-up goals to relieve pressure off the stars like Angel, Henry and Cahill.

Lindpere is gone now. For most, he is nothing more than an answer on a trivia question between fanatics dueling with their knowledge for superiority. However, for those who become nostalgic toward his time in New York (and try to forget his final year in Chicago), the stocky Estonian provided countless, imaginative moments where one was left asking, “How did he do that?”

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