HARRISON, N.J. – On Wednesday after practice, Dane Richards was asked if he looks forward to the pressure of must-win games, such as Thursday night’s clash with Philadelphia.
“Yeah, I love it. Score tomorrow and I’m a hero and we get in the playoffs,” he had said.
And he did just that – well, almost.
Richards’ 7th-minute header from Jan Gunnar Solli’s pinpoint cross cannoned off the post but hit Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragón on the back and went in to make it 1-0 in favor of the Red Bulls. Technically it was on own goal, but Richards was the man of the moment for New York.
“It was the same last year, the last five or six games he was absolutely flying,” head coach Hans Backe said. “He is quite a versatile player. He is always a threat and I think everyone is afraid of him as a striker. Hopefully he stays at the same level.”
The early goal lifted the Red Bulls against a lackluster Philadelphia opposition, and New York didn’t look back as they dominated proceedings and probably should have won by a larger margin. However Richard’s header proved critical in securing New York’s place in the 2011 MLS playoffs.
The 5-foot-7 winger was certainly surprised to score with his head; he shared his disbelief after prompted on his thoughts on someone predicting he would score a header before the game.
“I would’ve laughed at you,” Richards said. “I just wanted to put the ball on target and, fortunately, it bounced off the post, hit the ‘keeper and went in.”
Red Bulls central defender Tim Ream was delighted but also just as surprised to see Richards climb highest in the box and deliver the finishing touch.
“Dane’s not known for his heading prowess,” Ream joked. “But we’ll take whatever we can get. He was in the right place at the right time. Solli put in a great cross to him and Dane put it in a spot their ‘keeper couldn’t get to.”
The Jamaican international has scored six goals this season, also adding seven assists from right wing. Usually a winger, Richards started up front against the Union in place of a suspended Thierry Henry and didn’t look out of place alongside Luke Rodgers in attack.
It is not the first time Richards has proved his versatility over the last few seasons, and the lighting quick winger was pleased he could do a job for his team.
“I’m used to it,” Richards said. “Every time a striker’s out, coach always puts me up there. I just have to be dangerous with my speed behind and try and finish when I can.”