UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — The heel injury that has recently sidelined New York Red Bulls forward Luke Rodgers will keep him the shelf for at least three more weeks, and could end up costing him the rest of the season.
Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe revealed on Wednesday that if surgery is required for Rodgers, he will miss the remainder of a breakthrough season in MLS.
“Luke is still a question mark,” Backe told The New York Post. “I don’t know how much time it takes, but I would say in a couple of weeks, 10 days, we just need to take a decision if we should gamble and see how he can perform with this injury. Otherwise he will be out probably for the rest of the season, because he’s been out for so long."
The question now becomes one of what-ifs for RBNY, who have leaned on Rodgers for six goals and three assists in 15 appearances this season.
The easiest answer is the logical one: If Rodgers is lost, replace him with Juan Agudelo, who has filled in for Rodgers over the last month and moonlighted with the US national team during the CONCACAF Gold Cup earlier this summer.
Agudelo, however, is still learning the striker role and lacks the off-the-ball savvy of Rodgers. Backe specifically targeted Rodgers last year and brought the player in this offseason to do the hard, dirty work away from the ball to open things up for Thierry Henry.
Backe won’t try to change Agudelo’s style in the absence of Rodgers.
“I don’t think you can change players too much,” Backe told MLSsoccer.com. “They’re different types of strikers.”
But while Rodgers is a mobile, high-engine type up top and has been described by Backe as “a pain” for defenders, Agudelo also likes to move in channels and seek space for his runs. So while the fight of Rodgers will be missed, there is a more than capable replacement in Agudelo, who was called up on Thursday afternoon for the national team’s next game against Mexico on Aug. 13 in Philadelphia.
Agudelo has scored five goals in 17 appearances this season.
“I think Juan has similar movements to Luke,” center back Rafa Márquez said. “Now with Luke out, we will have to rely on Juan more.”
Backe also admitted that bringing in a late season likely isn’t in the cards for the Red Bulls, who are the highest-scoring team in the league so far this season with 37 goals in 23 games played.
“It’s probably not too late, but we don’t have the space under the salary cap,” Backe said.
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer