HARRISON, N.J. – The New York Red Bulls have had nearly as many changes across their backline this season as an awards host show has outfits, but head coach Hans Backe is finally ready to settle on a back four heading into playoffs.
Following Saturday’s scoreless draw with Sporting KC, Backe admitted that the starting backline of Connor Lade, Markus Holgersson, Rafa Márquez and Heath Pearce is likely the one he will use for the remainder of the year. Part of the reason for that is because of how well they played as a unit in shutting out a tough Sporting KC team, but also because of the losses of fullbacks Brandon Barklage and Wilman Conde.
“Brandon is probably, definitely out for the [Philadelphia] game, maybe the rest of the season,” Backe told reporters after the game. “Wilman will be out at least one week more. The way the [defense] played today, it looks like it’s the back four we have to use.”
The changes in the back may not be entirely done, however. Backe was not as ready to hand over the de facto No. 1 goalkeeper spot to Luis Robles, saying Robles and Bill Gaudette will continue to do battle for the top spot in training.
Still, Backe and the rest of the team were encouraged with the defense’s performance. All four players in the backline had strong individual showings and though they all received praise, one player in particular kept receiving plaudits from his teammates.
That player was Márquez.
“When Rafa plays at the back he calms everybody down,” striker Thierry Henry said. “He gives the ball over [to] the strikers, coming out, passing game, pinging the ball to the right, pinging the ball on the left, playing me behind. That’s quality.
“I’ve said it, that’s the key,” Henry added. “If Rafa is fit and plays the way he was playing at the back, everybody can calm down and he has the ball and he can play well for us.”
Pearce, meanwhile, appears prepared to comfortably make the shift to left back, a position he had not played since a US Open Cup game in May.
“Obviously, it’s a position that I’m familiar with and to go back to that position and playing next to Rafa Márquez makes it really easy,” Pearce told reporters after the game. “He plays a style that I play when I play left center back. I know that I can commit and stay tight on the guy in front of me because he’s covering behind me.
“Anytime you have a guy like that you’re playing next to with the experience that he has, it makes it pretty easy to do your job and you don’t have to worry so much about what’s going on around you," pearce added. "You can focus on the task at hand and that’s winning your individual battle.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.