Wednesday NY Gaffer: Things looking up

HARRISON, N.J. — The Red Bulls have won just once in their last 10 league games, so Tuesday night’s 2-1 victory over FC New York felt good. While the opponents were a USL Pro side, the Red Bulls reserves still put on a solid performance. The Wednesday Gaffer looks at the win and how RBNY stack up as they ready for a trip to Northern California to play the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday.

The Baby Bulls: Only one starter from Sunday afternoon’s tie at Toyota Park played on Tuesday night, as Stephen Keel made the starting XI for both the league and US Open Cup matches.

It was an inexperienced squad with only Keel and regulars Juan Agudelo and Tim Ream starting, but the Red Bull reserves looked solid enough. Although head coach Hans Backe termed it “average,” there were some sparks.

Right winger Marcos Paullo looked confident on the ball even if tentative defensively and he had three distance shots in the first half and one blistering effort in the second half, just barely missing the target on each attempt. Promising stuff from the young Brazilian.

Rooney Starts, Scores: Having been limited to just substitute appearances, midfielder John Rooney scored the game-winner midway through the second half on a shot from distance that was neatly tucked inside the post.

The Englishman was solid in his 90 minutes of action, showing good vision with some clever balls over the top to the forwards and making some nice defensive break-ups. Rooney, however, is downplaying the effort as he eyes more time in the lineup.

“I just need to keep working and working hard and hopefully it turns out right for me,” he said.

Look for his role to grow more with the team over the next month.

More of the Same: Backe was pleased with the win against a feisty and gritty FC New York and now, in the quarterfinals against Eastern Conference foes Chicago, he said he will roll out a similar lineup.

The Red Bulls boss could infuse some power into the starting XI against the Fire for their July 12 Open Cup encounter by including players such as midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy and defenders Chris Albright and potentially Carlos Mendes as well. However, with a heavy MLS slate and the Emirates Cup in late July, Backe feels his hands are tied in terms of starting his star players in Open Cup game.

“If we hadn’t had this schedule, then definitely I think we could have a priority to win the [US Open] Cup,” Backe said. “But with the schedule as it is now, we can’t do it.”

Where to Go from Here: The Red Bulls might have a little momentum now after getting their first win in a long time. With their starters returning from the Gold Cup, the bulk of their West Coast swing now a thing of the past, and just two points off the lead in the Eastern Conference, things are looking up for New York.

Albright returns to training on Wednesday after an injury layoff and Backe expects the team’s second leading scorer, Luke Rodgers, to be back from injury next week.

Just about the only negatives would be Rafa Márquez, whose hamstring injury will sideline him two to three weeks, and Carl Robinson, whom Backe hinted might retire by mid-July. And with sporting director Erik Solér saying a defensive signing or two are imminent, the Red Bulls seem to be gearing up for the stretch run.

Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer