HARRISON, N.J. – Prior to last weekend, few could have predicted that the New York Red Bulls would handle the Montreal Impact so easily.
And even fewer would have guessed that Eric Alexander would be the main catalyst in getting it done.
Alexander enjoyed what may have been his best performance of the season on Saturday, claiming Man of the Match honors for his goalscoring outing in the Red Bulls’ 4-0 demolition of the Impact.
The veteran midfielder – who also impressed in New York’s last home game, a 2-0 victory over the Houston Dynamo on June 30 – set the tone for the rout with an impressive early goal that looked to belong in a Lionel Messi highlight reel (above), and he was one of the Red Bulls’ biggest offensive threats during his 74 minutes on the field.
“I know for some reason Eric has been getting some stick from whether it be the media and the fans about not playing good or whatever,” Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke told reporters after Saturday's big win. "To us, he does very well. We’re very happy with Eric’s play.
"Tonight was a great example of what he’s capable of and I hope people don’t forget that he’s not an outside player. He’s someone that we converted to it and I think he’s adapted very well, and tonight he showed what he can do.”
A hardworking and unassuming player who rarely receives much praise, Alexander has been a staple in New York’s lineup since the second week of the season. He has started each of the club’s 19 games since then and has done so mostly as a right midfielder, a position that took Alexander, naturally a central player, some time to get used to.
“I wouldn’t say I was ever uncomfortable,” said Alexander, who was denied of a brace by the crossbar in the 32nd minute following another deep dribbling run. “It was just learning to play the position with how the other guys around you expect you to play it. It’s different than when I played it before when I was playing before in Portland and played a little bit in Dallas well. Overall, I’m pretty comfortable now, where guys expect me to be and the movements I need to make.”
The Red Bulls’ last two home games have been testament to just that, and Alexander has shown that he, too, can be a viable attacking weapon and one that opposing defenses, fans, and media may have to start paying more attention to.
“He’s an exceptional player,” said midfielder Tim Cahill. “He’s someone that’s gone above and beyond the call of duty for this team and he’s one of the most important players in this team. It’s great for confidence and it’s great to see him score goals, but he’s developing as a player and that’s what we want from him.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com.