Red Bulls face shortage at forward vs. Crew

In addition to Luke Rodgers, Mehdi Ballouchy may move upfield

UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – With the New York Red Bulls missing four starters from last Saturday’s
1-0 season-opening win over Seattle due to international call-ups and
potentially a fifth starter due to injury, head coach Hans Backe is just
beginning to get a grasp on a potential lineup ahead of the first road match of the league season.

The
absences of starting center backs Tim Ream and Rafa Marquez, midfielder Dane
Richards and forward Juan Agudelo all due to international duty obviously thin out
Backe’s choices for the starting lineup, but there's also an injury issue for Thierry Henry. The striker did not practice on Tuesday while dealing with a hamstring injury, leaving the Red Bulls potentially without either starting forward from last weekend's match.

One
option for the game-day roster is English forward Luke Rodgers, who has battled
injuries since signing in January and did not play in preseason. Rodgers was
on the bench last Saturday, but did not enter the match for New York. His
status heading into the trip to Columbus remains uncertain as he strives for
fitness.

“We
have to wait and see how fit he is,” Backe told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “I just don’t
know yet, but I imagine he should be available to us and would at least be on
the bench, like he was on Saturday.”

Even without Agudelo and Henry, and with Rodgers possibly limited to a substitute’s role, Backe
doesn’t yet seem prepared to turn to first round SuperDraft pick Corey Hertzog.

When asked
by MLSsoccer.com if Hertzog would be a candidate to start in Columbus, Backe said no. Hertzog indicated on Tuesday that he has not yet spoken to the manager regarding playing time for this weekend. The team parted ways with forward Ibrahim Salou this week.

Another
option for the Red Bulls could be to slide central midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy
from his attacking midfielder role into a forward position. After being acquired by
New York just before the trade deadline last year, Ballouchy was slotted into
a withdrawn forward role right behind Henry. The position higher up on the
field, then, wouldn’t be completely foreign to the player, but he's never seemed to
thrive as a forward.

Whatever
the case may be, the Red Bulls understand that they are in a difficult
situation. But a team hailed as the deepest
in club history and perhaps in the league this season is ready to test its
depth.

“We
may not like having to play with this many players missing, but we need to go
out there and get the job done,” defender Carlos Mendes said. “We feel like
we’re a deep team. I think if you put our bench guys against
many of the starters in this league, we could do well.”

Kristian R. Dyer can
be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer