MONTCLAIR, N.J. — If the New York Red Bulls are to emerge from Wednesday night's wild card match at FC Dallas (9 pm ET, FOX Soccer/TSN2) with a win, they'll have to do so without the player who scored the winning goal in their last trip to Pizza Hut Park six weeks ago.
Forward Luke Rodgers has been ruled out of Wednesday's game with a left knee injury, head coach Hans Backe told reporters on Tuesday. Rodgers picked up the knock in New York's season finale against Philadelphia last Thursday, and has not practiced since.
In his first year in MLS, Rodgers has become a vital part of the Red Bulls offense, scoring nine goals. But his work rate and commitment to team defense has made him crucial to the team, even when he’s not scoring. The Red Bulls are 1-3-7 this year when Rodgers is not on the field, including a winless stretch of six games from July to September while the Englishman was sidelined with plantar fascitis.
Backe called the stat “unbelievable,” but he isn’t concerned about the team coping without Rodgers.
“When I look at yesterday and today’s session, we looked sharp," Backe said at training on Tuesday, "so hopefully, hopefully mentally going into the playoffs is kind of a relief. We can keep going now. Normally, he’s an important player with his character and his work rate and everything. But it’s frightening the stats without him.”
According to Backe, Rodgers could be available by Friday should New York advance past Dallas.
“I don’t think it’s that bad," Backe said of the injury. "They did a scan on the area but I think he quite soon will be available to start training."
Rodgers was not at the team’s facility on Tuesday, receiving treatment off site. Without him, Backe said on Monday that it's likely Dane Richards will start up top with Thierry Henry.
With Thierry Henry serving a suspension against the Union last week, Backe deployed usual right midfielder Dane Richards at striker, moving central midfielder Dax McCarty into Richards’ role.
Backe said on Monday that he would probably slot Richards in at striker once again if Rodgers was unavailable, leaving the right side of the midfield open for McCarty’s return.
“He has definitely handled that very well,” Backe said of McCarty’s switch to the right side. “His timing with his runs, when to tuck in and things like that has been very, very well-timed, and also I would say technically he’s looked very, very composed. So, I think he’s a guy who’s stepped up in the last games. And [with] his work rate, he can run all day long, being a wide player, picking up attacking fullbacks against him. I’m quite pleased with him the last two, three games.”
Road sweet road
Most teams would prefer to play their playoff games at home. The Red Bulls may be the exception.
Last season, the Red Bulls took a 1-0 lead out of the road leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal against the San Jose Earthquakes before crashing out with a 3-1 defeat at Red Bull Arena.
“It was a real mess for that game,” Backe said. “We had a lot of players not used – it sounds stupid – to the traffic in New York. [We had] players arriving 45 to 55 minutes before the game because of traffic. The whole situation was a mess.”
“I think [it’s helpful to be on the road against Dallas],” Backe added. “Even if we’ve been winning more at home. ... I have a feeling that we can play better away than at home. I don’t know why, but that’s just the feeling.”