Mounsef Bakrar | "The Ball Went In And I Started To Run Like Crazy.”


“He said it’s your night.”

That was Nick Cushing’s three-word message to Mounsef Bakrar as he prepared to enter the Hudson River Derby.

The 28th installment of the rivalry was delicately poised at 1-1 when Bakrar was informed he would be entering the game.

The Algerian has had a mixed time of things during the first half of 2024. At its peak, Bakrar made his senior international debut for his country and registered an assist, while at Club level those same match-defining moments have been more difficult to harness.

Nick Cushing has remained steadfast in his support of Bakrar. The 23-year-old is a relentless presser, an intelligent runner, and is overall much-admired in the dressing room.

“It’s very important to see everyone, not just the coach, but everyone support you,” Bakrar said. "He was the first one but everyone was with me, they are behind me, they push me, and I’m so happy to have them around me.”

Unfortunately, the view of a striker often sees them judged on goals alone. It is the razor’s edge in which they rest, a hero one minute, a villain the next.

At a Club like New York City FC, wearing the number nine shirt, Bakrar has embraced that challenge from the first moment the move to the five boroughs was proposed to him last summer.

His first goal for the Club - a half volley against Toronto FC in Leagues Cup - left a strong impression on his new supporters.

He would add a further three goals in the league to round out 2023. While his adjustment to MLS is ongoing, this year was primed for him to step in and make strides in his development and become the man for the big moment.

“I said to myself I need to do something tonight. The coach is giving me a chance and I need to take it.”

Bakrar produced that big moment on Saturday against Red Bulls. Six minutes after entering the game, some neat interplay between Hannes Wolf and Tayvon Gray allowed the latter to throw a low cross into the box. It was in those few seconds that everything came together for Bakrar as he put City ahead.

“I saw the ball went in and I started to run like crazy,” Bakrar said with a big smile.

To rewatch his goal is to see a dozen tiny details stitch together for a moment of perfection. It’s the small movements to create space from his defender, the peeling away to receive the ball in the middle of the goal, and then the assertive side-foot volley to help squeeze the ball underneath the goalkeeper.

It is instinctual, but only because it has been so routinely practiced.

"I was so happy,” he said. “I can’t explain the feeling. It was very important to score this goal and the great thing is to help my team and win the derby.

“The coach, he said it’s your night, he knew I would do something.”

It is why Bakrar was so quick to run to Cushing during his celebrations. The pairs’ embrace on the touchline was a sign of mutual appreciation that was about more than just a goal or a game.

To score in a derby added a special touch to Bakrar’s first of the season. City’s squad hails from across the globe, each bringing their own understanding of a rivalry game.

It is perhaps that same understanding that fuels their excitement when it is time to face Red Bulls – with Bakrar certainly enthused by what Saturday allowed him to experience.

“Everyone sees on the things on social media about this derby,” he said excitedly. “Everyone is talking, and then today you see the fans. The atmosphere was great. We need them in every single game. I’m so happy.”

Both player and coach know, however, that the challenge has not changed. Cushing has consistently preached the notion that tough times create strong teams. It tracks then, that same logic must also apply to the individual.

“I believe Mounsef is going to score every game,” Cushing said. “I’m really happy for him because he deserved that [goal]. He’s worked so hard to be the player for New York that adds all of the different things we need to be a successful team. He scored one tonight, but we want him to continue now.”

Bakrar echoed that message in the mixed zone as the clock ticked toward 11 pm on Saturday night. He had answered every question asked, with two things remaining constant throughout – his smile, and his stated intention to make this goal the first of many this season.

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