CARSON, Calif. – In the span of 30 seconds on Thursday night, Luke Rodgers provided a microcosm of his entire persona.
Just four minutes into the match, the Red Bulls striker was on the receiving end of a gorgeous Thierry Henry through ball after a tremendous buildup by his team. The diminutive Englishman ran onto it and cleanly deposited it past Josh Saunders for a 1-0 lead that left 20,000 at The Home Depot Center in stunned silence.
Then, on the ensuing restart, he went studs up in a dirty challenge on David Beckham, receiving an immediate yellow card from Hilario Grajeda and the first rain of catcalls from the fans.
“That’s Luke in a nutshell,” mused Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty. “He’s always going to give you that 100 percent effort.”
But the fiery Rodgers wasn’t done endearing himself to the Galaxy faithful. In the eighth minute, he drilled a dead ball straight into the eastern stands of the stadium. And that was enough – with the amount of boos that came his way every time he touched the ball, he might as well have been Larry Bird to the LA fans.
“You’re there to do a job,” Rodgers said after the match. “If their crowd don’t like me, then I’m doing my job, aren’t I?”
Unfortunately, Rodgers couldn’t do quite enough to keep his team in the game. Momentum soon swung back the Galaxy’s way. In the end, LA won the match 2-1 and the series 3-1 on aggregate.
But it wasn’t for lack of trying. Rodgers was the fly in the ointment for LA all night, as the danger he provided up top was constant, even if the service wasn’t. He nearly added another in the 57th minute after a great lead pass from McCarty, but drilled the side netting. The missed opportunity will eat at him, he admitted.
“It’s not easy to score against a team like this,” he said. “I should definitely have been able to score the second goal. It’d have been a different game, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
What was meant to be, obviously, was Rodgers’ influence on his team in 2011. Head coach Hans Backe praised the former Notts County man as a difference-maker during his debut season in MLS, but lamented that he rarely could count on a fully fit Rodgers. The 29-year-old striker scored nine goals in 23 games this season, but missed key stretches with various health issues.
And his incendiary personality? That’s just the sign of a competitor.
“I like big games,” Rodgers said. “Everyone’s on edge, everyone’s going into game nervous. That’s how you become a footballer in games like that. I was really up for it. I was probably a bit too up for it at the start of the game, to be fair.”
Red Bulls fans will surely be up to having him back in 2012.