HARRISON, N.J. – If Roy Miller’s latest rough outing was enough to convince you that New York Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe is ready to bench the Costa Rican, think again.
Miller is likely to continue starting at left back in the coming weeks despite putting forth one of his worst performances of the season on Sunday, a 36-minute cameo in the Red Bulls’ 3-2 comeback win over the Portland Timbers that ended before halftime when Backe replaced him with forward Kenny Cooper.
HIGHLIGHTS: NY 3, POR 2
Still, Backe attributed Miller’s struggles to having played on the international level a few days prior and said the veteran fullback is still worthy of starting for the Red Bulls.
“There’s always a question mark, should you play these players coming back from Wednesday's [international games] or should you start them on the bench?” Backe told reporters after the game. “And they are fatigued, they played 60 minutes each, and with traveling, time difference, I've seen it so many times in England with Manchester City with the Brazilian guys coming back. It's almost impossible to perform, so I'm not that surprised, and no, I can't say that he played himself out of the team."
In fairness to Miller, he had been much improved in recent weeks. In fact, he has six assists on the season (only Thierry Henry has more with seven), and his most recent helper came in the 2-0 home win over the Houston Dynamo on Aug. 10.
That does not change the fact that many would rather see the versatile Heath Pearce starting in his place, but doesn't appear likely to happen anytime soon. Pearce has looked comfortable at center back in the Red Bulls’ past two games, and he seems to be a good compliment to Markus Holgersson.
"Center back is where I've been playing lately, so it's obviously where I'm more comfortable,” Pearce said. “Outside back is another type of fitness, another type of game, another mentality. I'm happy to play both, I'm extremely comfortable in both, so I wouldn't really prefer one or the other."
Backe is leaning towards keeping Miller and Pearce together on the field not only because he rates them as players. It also allows him to have a viable center back option in Wilman Conde, who has been known to pick up an injury or two, fresh and ready for when his time comes.
"With Wilman, too, we have three strong centerbacks,” said Backe. “We've seen so far in the last games after Conde got his injury, that Heath and Markus play well together, so there's no reason to switch and we have an option off the bench.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.