Rodgers standing tall for RBNY thus far
UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Above Luke Rodgers’ locker at Red Bull Arena, there is a bobblehead doll of “Mini-Me,” the miniature clone of Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movie series. With his shaved head and generous listed height of 5-foot-8, Rodgers does bear somewhat of a striking resemblance to the character.
But there has been nothing miniature about Rodgers' performance for the Red Bulls. The diminutive Englishman has been standing tall, scoring twice last week, including a 34th-minute equalizer on the road at Vancouver last Saturday in a 1-1 draw.
“He’s done very well here for us,” Backe told MLSsoccer.com. “The way he plays, the constant, constant movement and the way he’s scoring, it has been a perfect fit for us so far this season.”
Rodgers played much bigger against the Whitecaps than his size would suggest, providing a strong physical presence and frequently mixing it up with the Vancouver back line. It was the role of a target forward, unafraid to back down from contact while his engine and mobility constantly pressured and harried the Whitecaps defense.
And for the fifth time this season, Rodgers proved to be a striker who gets himself into good positions to score; his first-half goal was a prototypical striker’s goal in every way.
Rodgers took a cross from Jan Gunnar Solli on the right side of the area, got goal-side of his defender and, from eight yards out, one-timed the ball into the back of the net.
“I just got the touch in the right way from a ball from wide,” Rodgers told MLSsoccer.com. “It was then just as easy as hitting it in. It’s always nice to score, but it was nice to score that way, going a goal down and getting a point on the road. It was especially nice.”
WATCH: Rodgers evens the score
The draw gave the Red Bulls their third straight tie and an important road point with a lineup depleted by injuries and international call-ups. The continued scoring by Rodgers — often gritty goals that are the result of hard and well-timed runs — makes him the prototypical “fox in the box” type scorer in MLS.
And his no-holds barred style has made him a fan favorite at Red Bull Arena.
“I love it,” Rodgers said. “Absolutely love it. The fans and support here has been massive. You want to reward that and build that connection with the fans. They’ve been great since I’ve been here.”
The style in MLS and on this Red Bulls side seems to be an ideal fit for a player used to the more direct and less nuanced style of lower division soccer in England. That was evidenced on Saturday, when his solid positioning in front of goal, splitting two defenders with his movement, was rewarded with a quality ball from Solli that set up the goal.
“When you play with quality players like this — I’ve never played on a team like this before — you can’t help but lift your level,” Rodgers said. “When you make the runs like this, they do get rewarded.”
Rodgers’ recent scoring form is a bit of a surprise to Backe and Red Bulls fans, as he was always known as more of a support striker than a goal-scorer in England. Coming into the squad, Backe had hailed the forward as a hard worker who’d do the dirty work for star Thierry Henry.
“It’s surprised me,” Backe said. “When you look back at his record over the years, he’s not the one always scoring goals for his previous clubs. He’s often had a thankless job.”
Backe may be surprised, but Rodgers isn’t.
“I’m not surprised one bit, to be honest," he said. "When you take a look at earlier in my career, I was scoring plenty. But sometimes roles change and you are called on to do other things to help the team. Now I’m back to scoring goals again, which I like, of course.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer