New Zealand international Noah Billingsley got his first taste of Major League Soccer against FC Dallas on Monday.
All Whites utility Noah Billingsley made his Major League Soccer debut for Minnesota United on Monday (NZT) – five months after testing positive for Covid-19.
The 23-year-old was brought onto the field in the 85th minute of Minnesota’s 3-0 win over FC Dallas, injected into the game at the same time as New Zealand team-mate James Musa.
“It was quite special to go on with another Kiwi. The other guy I got subbed on with, [Chase Gasper], he’s also my room-mate, so it was cool getting subbed on with two of my good friends on the team,” Billingsley said.
“The whole year I’ve had my friends back home in New Zealand letting me know that we’ve played the same amount of MLS games so it’s nice to be able to be able to go one up on them.
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“I was a wee bit overwhelmed at the time but it was good. I had to take a moment, a couple of deep breaths and look around, but once you’re out there it’s just football at the end of the day.”
Billingsley said he was delighted to make his MLS debut after a rollercoaster rookie season.
The Olé Football Academy product tested positive for Covid-19 a few days before Minnesota were scheduled to travel to Orlando for the MLS Is Back hub tournament.
Confined to his apartment, Billingsley was unable to shake the virus for four to five weeks.
“I lost taste and smell at first,” he said. “I didn’t have those for about a week and a half and then had the sniffles. It was almost just like a regular cold but after about two weeks I felt good but kept testing positive.
“It was really tough to deal with. Right before Orlando I was training quite well and it was looking like I could possibly get some game time in Orlando, so I was really excited about getting down there and getting on the field.
“At first I just thought Covid was going to be a little setback and I’d be able to join the team in a week or two but the fact that I kept testing positive and I was isolated by myself in this pretty new city away from all my family and friends, it was quite a tough time.”
To help get him back up to speed after a month of no training, Minnesota sent Billingsley, one of three Kiwi players on their roster, out on loan to second-tier club Las Vegas Lights.
He made nine appearances in the USL before linking back up with Minnesota for their final few regular season games.
“A big part of my game is fitness and when I went down to Vegas I was a wee bit worried because it wasn’t great, and the Vegas weather it was basically 40 degrees every day down there.
“After being in lockdown and having Covid for a collective of two or three months I was quite unfit when I first went to Vegas so it was awesome to get my fitness back, get nine or 10 games in and get me back to where I was at the start of the year to get in the running for playing a game in the MLS.”
Although he did not expect to take the field against FC Dallas, Billingsley gave his mum back in New Zealand a heads up that he would be on the bench. She watched via a live stream just in case.
Billingsley got his chance when starting right-back Romain Métanire went down with a slight niggle.
“The game came around yesterday and I thought this would be a good opportunity because we go into the playoffs in two weeks and we were 3-0 up at the time. I thought ‘here we go, this might be my moment’ but it almost didn’t happen. The only reason I came on was because the right-back we had playing went down with a wee injury.
“Fortunately my mum was able to watch it. I was able to let her know that I was in the squad before the game kicked off but neither of us really expected me to get on. But she’s a good mum, she watched the entire game and managed to see me get on which is a pretty special moment for both of us.”