Even if the moment was brief, it was long enough for Caleb Stanko to appreciate it.
FC Cincinnati lost 2-0 at LAFC on Saturday night against the MLS league leaders. Yet, despite the loss and Carlos Vela’s stoppage-time goal to double the deficit, Cincinnati played well and created chances that showed sparks of optimism.
One of those sparks was Stanko.
When he was asked about the personal milestone, he allowed himself to smile before turning the focus from himself onto the team’s points dropped.
“It was great to be on the field,” Stanko said. “It was a great atmosphere; I’m super happy; It’s just unfortunate about the loss.”
Stanko played 76 minutes before Victor Ulloa replaced him. The duo swapped roles from last week’s 1-1 home draw against Sporting Kansas City, when Ulloa started and Stanko was a second-half sub.
In his first start, Stanko won possession eight times, made six tackles, three interceptions and had one clearance. In possession, he completed 76.5% of his 34 passes, 85% in LAFC territory.
“He did exactly what we thought he’d do,” Head Coach Alan Koch said. “It’s obviously tough for players to come in. Caleb’s been very patient. He’s waited for his chance. I was happy with how he did considering it was his first start. You could see he was fatigued toward the end, but that was to be expected. He’ll continue to grow from this.”
The appearance was his fifth this season for the Orange and Blue in his debut season in MLS. As he adjusts to playing in the league, he’s also adjusting to returning to the country.
After playing soccer in high school, the midfielder had multiple options. One included a scholarship to play at the University of Michigan; another was joining SC Freiburg in Germany.
He went to Europe.
While there, first-team minutes were slim, and he eventually found more time with the second team in Germany’s fourth tier.
Eventually, Stanko wanted a change. He had multiple options once again – in MLS or with other European teams. This time, he decided to move closer to home (Michigan).
“I don’t want to say it’s a fresh start,” Stanko said before the season began. “I’m bringing all my experiences and all my talent with me. Everything that I’ve learned in Europe, which is very vital to me and valuable to me, I’m bringing with me. In the sense of opportunity, it’s a new opportunity.”
It’s an opportunity Stanko has seized.
The 25-year-old proved against MLS’ best that he can produce a consistent performance in the midfield. His play produced results.
Whereas previous appearances were late in matches and sometimes out of his natural central midfield role, the match in Los Angeles highlighted what Stanko can offer FC Cincinnati when he’s comfortable.
“This has always been the goal, to become a starter” Stanko said. “It’s a long process and it’s one game, but it’s a good start for me.”