Rodgers proves NY's pursuit was well worth it
HARRISON, N.J. – Ever since the news broke of his potential
arrival to New York, Red Bulls forward Luke Rodgers has proven to be a
compelling figure before he stepped foot on an MLS field.
With well-documented complications related to his work
permit and a resume formed in the lower tiers of English soccer, fans were
curious to see whether manager Hans Backe’s drawn-out pursuit of the striker from
England’s third division was worth it. On Saturday night, they saw the pay-off.
Making just his second start in MLS – the first in which he
was healthy and fit – Rodgers scored two goals in the opening 15 minutes and assisted
on the third to propel the Red Bulls to a 3-0 win over the Earthquakes.
“I was just looking forward to getting on the field and
playing,” Rodgers said. “We have two great forwards in Thierry [Henry] and Juan
[Agudelo]. I wasn’t sure when I was going to get on the pitch.”
It was a dream start for Rodgers, who gave the Red Bulls an
important lead with his first ever league goal, a header off a Dane Richards’
bouncing cross in the second minute. The irony that the diminutive Rodgers
scored what he termed a “right place, right time goal” with his head was not
lost on the 5-foot-7 forward.
“I don’t think I’ve ever suspected scoring a header,”
Rodgers said after the match.
While he was easily the shortest player on either team’s starting
XI, Rodgers’ impact was huge on the match. The Red Bulls, who held an
overwhelming possession edge for a third straight match, utilized Rodgers’ long
runs behind the San Jose backline to create chance after chance on the Earthquakes
By holding a very high line, Rodgers created space for strike partner
Thierry Henry to wander and create, also freeing up space for Joel Lindpere and
Dane Richards on the wing with his constant movement.
“I don’t know if it is because teams don’t see him because
he’s so short or because he’s so fast, but he’s always dangerous,” NYRB
defender Tim Ream told MLSSoccer.com. “But he runs for 90 minutes.”
Rodgers movement off the ball and his ability to hold
possession under pressure, almost like a target striker, was encouraging for
Last weekend in Philadelphia, the Red Bulls struggled in the
attacking third to create chances and stretch the Union backline. Now with
Rodgers being a pesky firecracker of activity, the back four of San Jose was
constantly under pressure and having to follow Rodgers all over the field.
The movement of the Englishman off the ball worked well with
Henry, who had several quality second half chances to score. Henry finally
scored in the 88th minute off a cross from Rodgers, ending his MLS goal scoring
drought at 684 minutes.
It was promising stuff for a Henry-Rodgers strike
partnership that Backe has been hinting at since last spring.
“Perhaps he doesn’t have the best record scoring goals but
he’s always around,” Backe said. “A busy, busy striker.”
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at