DERRICK EITENNE JR
Age at MLS Cup: 24
Hometown: Paterson, NJ
ALL COMPETITIONS IN 2020:
What a championship journey for Derrick Etienne Jr. Midway through the 2019 season, his hometown club, the New York Red Bulls, loaned him to FC Cincinnati, then didn’t bring him back. He signed with the Crew in February and earned a roster spot in training camp. In the summer, he was an outspoken voice in Black Players for Change, sharing his own experiences in Columbus when a police officer pulled him over and told him he “looked like he had warrants.” Come playoff time, he assisted on what would prove to be the game-winning goal in the Crew’s first-round win against his hometown Red Bulls, who had just let him go. Then he contracted COVID-19 and had to miss the next two playoff games. When he returned to health, Luis Diaz had been playing so spectacularly that it would have been impossible to pull him from the lineup, but then when Pedro Santos fell ill with COVID-19, Etienne stepped up and scored a beautiful goal in the Crew’s 3-0 slaughter of the defending champion Seattle Sounders. It was a tumultuous year with the happiest of endings, soccer-wise.
THROUGH JOSH’S EYES
“Derrick, man, what a cool story. He’s someone who just came in on trial at the beginning of the year. I played against him when he was on the Red Bulls, so I knew he was gifted. I knew he was quick and good with the ball. He’s a guy who unsettles the defense because when he has the ball, he’s capable of beating another guy and then all of a sudden you’re on the back foot. So I knew when he came in on trial that he brought something we could use for sure. But his role on this team, and it’s a role I’ve had at times in my career, was where you’re not necessarily a consistent starter. You could go a couple games without playing, or you could start a couple games, or you could come on as a late sub. It’s a role in which you constantly have to be prepared. You have to treat every game like you’re a starter, but it’s always in the back of your mind that you might not get in or might only get ten minutes as a sub. It’s a tricky situation to be in, but I think he handled it so well all year.
“He’s someone who immediately immersed himself within the team. We always make fun of him by saying you can hear Derrick before you see him. He’s always joking and always being loud, so we always get on him for it. He brings a good energy to the team, and that’s what I like about him.
“He’s the music guy. He’s in charge of the music, and when I’m in the weight room, I like the music he plays. He normally tries to grab the AUX cord as soon as he gets in there. It’s mostly hip-hop and it’s mostly him dancing. I don’t know if I agree with all of his dances, but they are fun to watch, that’s for sure. I swear he’s a got a dance for every song he plays.
“He’s got a great relationship with everyone. He’s one of the jokesters on the team, where everybody’s either ripping on him or he’s ripping on someone. He’s always high-energy, and I love that. It’s the same thing I mention with Seba and Aidan. I love that youthful energy. It’s fun. You should be smiling and you should laughing because we don’t get to do this for that long. So I feel Derrick brings that type of energy to the locker room to laugh and have good positive energy approaching a training session and then after the training session. He was a great pickup for us and it obviously paid huge dividends.
“When he’s in the biggest moments, I remember him bringing his headphones, his airpods, to the stadium and just getting in the zone. I remember the look on his face in the locker room before MLS Cup. There was actually a funny moment between him and Caleb in the final training session before the final. We were at the stadium and Caleb digs into him a little bit and tells him he feels like he’s the only one who wasn’t ready or focused or something like that. What happened was there was a bad pass to him. He was running straight and the pass came in behind him instead of in front of him, and it hit his heel. He tried to make up for it, but someone ended up stealing it and went the other way with it. Caleb kinda got into him. I was thinking, ‘Man that’s kinda harsh. It wasn’t even really his fault.’ Derrick was kind of upset and he looked at me and I was like, ‘Dude, just forget it.’ Afterward, Caleb went up to him and said, ‘Are you mad at me?’ Derrick said no, but I think he was mad at him. Caleb said, ‘Look, I think you play better with an edge to you.’ I remember thinking that, yeah, he actually does. So I think that was a good moment from Caleb. I remember Derrick coming in the next day and looking totally focused for the game. In the big moments, I feel like there is a look that Derrick has where he locks in and realizes what is at stake. And then in warmups, I realized he was locked in and had a bunch of really clean touches. You could tell he was just itching to go as soon as warmups started.
“Then when he scored, he crossed his arms. I didn’t really get to ask him what that was all about. I mean, was it cold? What was going on there? But look back at the way he scored that goal. Look at the confidence he had to hit it that way. He was calm, cool, and collected when he passed it into the corner (of the goal.) You know he was feeling it because he hit the ball exactly how he wanted to hit it. To me, a finish like that means his confidence level was as high as it could be. I just fed off that. I loved that because to have those two guys (including Aidan Morris) be able to step up in that moment, I knew the game was pretty much over at that point.”
“And I was happy for him because I’ve been in that situation where you are let go by your hometown team and then to be in a different situation and thrust into some big games. I can relate to that, and he had the mental fortitude to bang one in that moment. I have so much respect for that. What a cool story. I love that fact that he was able to be in that moment and to have the fortitude to rise to that moment.
“He was someone who was big in the Black Players for Change. So to have him, Jona, G, Adi, Fatai, Jordan Hamilton…to have these guys who cared so much about that movement not only allowed the locker room to understand the weight of the moment down in Orlando, but these guys are such good people that you want to get on board with them. I think it unified us more down there. I think we have emotionally intelligent people in our locker room, so we understood the situation. Nobody was unaware of what was happening. But because those guys are such good people and they asked us to support them, that was definitely a unifying moment. And then Derrick had that moment with the police and he’s sharing his experience with us. Those things can wake you up when you realize how much these guys care about this, as we all should.
“So it was huge year for Derrick. Starting from where he was a trialist, and then he scored a couple goals in preseason and gained a lot of respect there. And then being part of Black Players for Change and helping to bring all of that to the forefront with the team and the league. Unfortunately, there were some negative situations that happened to him, but those moments made him part of the team in ways that might not have been so quick. He was our brother and we were going to stand up with him. You’d have to talk to him, but I think that maybe he felt he was definitely part of the team as if he’d been here a long time. He fully immersed himself in the team and with us.”
[NOTE: To see a clickable list of earlier installments of this Josh Williams series or other MLS Cup related posts, please click HERE.]
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