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July 31, 2013
Red Bulls rookie Bustamante making strides, slowly but surely

By Kristian R. Dyer Contributing Editor

HANOVER, N.J. – In his first year in MLS, Red Bulls midfielder Michael Bustamante is taking the slow way to get on the field. But make no mistakes about it as the rookie’s star is clearly rising.

Taken in the first round of the 2013 MLS Supplemental Draft, Bustamante is coming off a college career at Boston University where he was a star attacker and a central midfielder. But the transition to MLS has seen him playing a lot of reserve matches and no league matches, that is until the last few weeks where he has been finding some game minutes.

He has made two appearances in the Red Bulls' last three regular season matches and logged some significant minutes at right back during the recent Lyon friendly. It is a sign of confidence from Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke to start giving the rookie some minutes.

“I mean, I’m definitely happy to be here. It’s an exciting season, a first season. You look to learn from the veterans here. Mike is starting to trust me a little more and you look to contribute anyway you can,” Bustamante said.

Bustamante said that the message from Petke on what he needed to improve on was crystal clear.

“He wanted myself to grow as a player and think much quicker, move the ball quicker and complete passes. I think it is going well,” he said. “Better positioning on the field and as a midfielder, shutting things down and creating some changes for the team. There is still work to do.”

For Petke, who still remembers being a rookie himself with the MetroStars in 1998, his young midfielder’s development is still a work in progress. He likes some of the things he sees in the player but wants to see more.

But he also is pleased with the promise he sees and Bustamante’s dedication to improving.

“Michael is far from a finished product but he’s someone that we have tremendous faith in the future,” Petke said. “He shows enough things in practice that I know I can rely on him if I need to and that’s why you saw him go in certain games this year. I think it is a slow process, bringing him along the right way. He’s showing signs of improvement, he’s showing the eagerness to learn and adapting to our style and adapting him to the pace of professional soccer. I need to reward him at times.”

Even if that means running the man who was a central midfielder in college a season ago at along the backline at right back. Bustamante never played the position before the MLS combine this offseason but he is more than willing to give it a try if it means he’s helping the team.

“They’ve used me at fullback a little. I’m comfortable playing wherever they want me to play as long as I’m contributing. I’d like to sit in the middle but we’re stacked there," he said. "That is a plus though because we have great players like Tim Cahill, Dax McCarty. It is a great opportunity to learn from big time players. If I can contribute as a central player, that’s great for me. But I just want to contribute.

“I’ve never played it in my life. Played a little at the combine and I think I held myself together well. The Lyon game, I was happy Mike trusts me to go out there and play out of position. If that is what he wants me to do, I’m here to contribute any way I can.”

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