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Red Bulls' Rodgers could return after lengthy layoff

UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Signs are promising that New York’s English striker Luke Rodgers could make his return to the pitch this weekend at home against Vancouver (7:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online).

On Friday morning, Rodgers put in another intense day of training with the team. He did some fitness work and then spent 20 minutes doing finishing drills, taking balls from Thierry Henry and peppering Alex Horwath with shots on goal.

Rodgers hasn’t played since July 6 when he scored in a 5-0 rout of Toronto FC. In that game, he re-aggravated a heel injury originally suffered in May and came off the field at halftime in favor of Juan Agudelo.

“It looks good, quite, quite good,” head coach Hans Backe said. “He has an afternoon session now, so we’ll take the decision after that. Could be a possibility for the bench tomorrow. His character and work ethic is phenomenal, even if he’s not fit to play on Saturday, we’ll wait on the afternoon session.”

Rodgers had a huge smile on his face during training at Montclair State University, obviously glad to be on the field. He’s hopeful of a return this weekend.

“For me, it’s the most important part of the season now,” he said. “We’ve seven games left and more if we make the playoffs. I really want to come in and try do well and give our team an extra push and try help us get in the playoffs.”

Despite having missed the past two months with the heel injury, Rodgers is still tied for second on the Red Bulls with six goals. The forward, who joined the team in January after being targeted by the Red Bulls last spring, is a highly mobile attacker whose runs open up space for Henry.

Backe praised Rodgers earlier this week for his outstanding work ethic through the rehab process, but he cautioned on Friday that he won’t risk the player’s long-term health for this weekend.

“You worry that it’s going to go again and you’re going to be out, exactly what happened before,” said Rodgers, who scored the Red Bulls’ equalizer in a 1-1 tie vs. the Whitecaps in May. “I thought it was OK. I came back too early, then I was out another two months.

“I’m back, but I’ve got to work on my fitness now. But that’s only going to happen with games.”

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