HARRISON, N.J. – Dane Richards says he expects to partner Luke Rodgers in the New York Red Bulls' most important match of the regular season.
New York need a win over Philadelphia on Thursday (8 pm ET, ESPN 2, ESPN Deportes) to guarantee their safe passage into the playoffs, and Richards told reporters after training on Tuesday that he expects to start up top with Rodgers in the absence of Thierry Henry, who will miss the match due to the red card he incurred last weekend in Kansas City.
At training on Tuesday, Richards was paired with Rodgers at the forward position in lieu of US international Juan Agudelo. Normally a winger, the Jamaican international has experience at the forward position, playing there several times this season and in past years. He was a catalyst of the Red Bulls offense in 2008 during their run to the MLS Cup final - though he played his customary right midfield during that stretch - and he's scored six times this year for New York.
But filling in for Henry, the team's leading scorer with 14 goals, will be no easy task. Richards says his mission is clear.
“Just be dangerous up there, try spin, get behind the defense, set up my teammates and finish when I can,” he said. “We’re going up against the best defense in the league. It will be a challenge so I’m looking forward to it because it’s a must-win.”
Even though Richards has proven goal-scoring ability, replacing Henry — whose chemistry with Rodgers has been one of the highlights for New York this season — is a tall order. Traditionally, Richards has always worked alongside a target striker. Yet he and Rodgers are from the same mold and head coach Hans Backe sees their similar playing styles as a valuable weapon against the Union.
“Two pacey guys, always a threat for center backs to play against,” said Backe.
However, this will be the first time Richards and Rogers have played together up top. If New York are to make the postseason, the two like-minded individuals must be careful they don't occupy the same space, but rather play off of each other to prove a thorn in the side of the Union defense.
“First practice with him, I know both of us like to spin,” Richards said of the Englishman. “So it will be interesting. Both of us really don’t like to show for the ball. We like to spin and get behind, we just got to set up each other. I know now if I break, there will be someone in the six-yard box waiting [and] likewise.”