For the first time in two months, the New York Red Bulls earned a league win. But can Saturday night’s 1-0 victory over FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park propel them into the playoffs? The Monday Gaffer looks at the battle for the postseason.
Cynical soccer. It was a Red Bulls side that kept things simple and clean, choosing three points over style points. Head coach Hans Backe said late last week that he wanted his team to play “cynical” on defense, and he got that from a safe and cautious backline.
FC Dallas had a 19-6 advantage in shots and nearly 60 percent of possession, but the Red Bulls, like last year’s team that went from worst to first, kept 10 players behind the ball for a crucial win which sets them up for the final stretch of the regular season. Time after time, New York chose to play the ball out of bounds or deep rather than concede a counterattack.
“It’s obvious,” right back Chris Albright said. “We’re not going to try to hide behind some veil of beautiful soccer tonight. It certainly wasn’t the case. It’s a long season, 34 games. Sometimes you have got to go on the road and weather the storm, keep a zero in the back. That was huge. We haven’t done that in a long time.”
Need somebody to lean on. With four starters out because of injury or suspension, this was a depleted Red Bulls starting XI that managed the win. No player was more crucial than forward Luke Rodgers, who scored the game’s lone goal despite still working his way back from a heel injury. It was a gutsy effort from New York and the kind of backbone this team hasn’t always shone this season.
“I think sometimes these guys can pick up each other, I think so,” head coach Hans Backe said. “I think they know where we are. We’re in the race now winning this game. I think some of these guys know how important it is when the big guns are out, they just need to step up and take the responsibility.”
Rodgers is back. The goal in the 36th minute from Rodgers underscored how important the English forward is to the Red Bulls, with his pace and energy adding another dimension to the attack. After nine weeks off with a heel injury, the return of Rodgers lifted the Red Bulls.
“It’s massive for me,” Rodgers said. “It’s my first game back, I came through it with no injuries. I felt my fitness felt good. Obviously it’s nice to get a goal. I’m over the moon.”
If Rodgers can continue to contribute and stay healthy, it is a huge lift for the team, especially as Thierry Henry continues to struggle with an Achilles injury.
Playoff push. The win over FC Dallas was a surprise, and it was just the second road win of the season for New York. Now, with a midweek game against Real Salt Lake and then Portland on Saturday night, there are two home games for the Red Bulls to continue their momentum. This team needs four points from the homestand to feel good about the postseason.