RJ Allen will never forget his first start for NYCFC.
It was May 10, 2015 and Allen marched through the tunnel with his new teammates into a cauldron of noise at Red Bull Arena for the first-ever meeting between NYCFC and the Red Bulls.
Allen acquitted himself well, picking up his first MLS assist on a perfect ball into the six-yard box in a 2-1 loss that Sunday night.
“It was definitely a really special moment for my family and for me as well,” Allen said. “It was a very disappointing end result, but for my first start and to come away with an assist like I did, it was a great first game for me and I’m very blessed to be in that situation and to be given the opportunity that I was.”
WATCH: 20 Questions with RJ Allen
Allen started 12 more times after signing with NYCFC on May 2, 2015. Despite that success, Allen knew he would have to prove himself again to new coach Patrick Vieira.
“Whenever a new coach comes in, it’s a new switch for everybody,” Allen said. “I knew that coming into this season I had to prove myself again from scratch. I knew Patrick watched some games from the year before, but every year presents something new and you have to prove yourself each year.”
Allen has done just that. He’s started 12 of the 14 matches he’s appeared in, scoring his first MLS goal in a 1-1 draw against Montreal on April 27 and adding four assists.
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He’s a regular starter on an NYCFC team that is first place in the Eastern Conference, but Allen is far from satisfied.
“There’s always going to be new obstacles every year and it’s about what you can bring to the table each year and being a good pro,” Allen said. “I’m not content just being a guy in training or a person that starts, I want to be someone who is a leader and is a part of this club long term. I grew up here and playing here means a lot to me and I want to bring something back to this state.”
On Sunday, Allen returns to the scene of his first start for the sixth derby match between the fierce rivals.
“I think the fans, more than anything, create that environment for us, an environment that brings a lot of energy,” Allen said. “It’s two New York teams at the end of the day, one team doesn’t like the other and we obviously want to make our fans very happy and appreciative of the New York team they have on their side.”