UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Last Saturday evening at PPL Park, the Red Bulls trotted out a modified 4-5-1 formation that lined Juan Pablo Angel up top as a lone striker. Two goals conceded in the first half were enough to show head coach Hans Backe that Ángel needed support.
Enter Salou Ibrahim. Again.
Salou has seemingly been a forgotten man since this summer as injuries and the signing of Thierry Henry have relegated him to spot duty. But last weekend, Salou provided the Red Bulls with a jolt, something the wavering side will need against the suddenly dangerous New England Revolution on Thursday. Henry will be missing through injury, possibly giving Salou the chance to prove his worth as the Red Bulls head into the playoffs.
“I don’t think I necessarily have something to prove but I do want to show what I can do,” Ibrahim said this week. “Injuries slowed me down when I was playing well, but now I have an opportunity to show what I can do.”
In the second half of Saturday’s match with the Union, Ibrahim nearly scored midway through the second half to equalize. But his importance as a target striker who can provide a big presence in the attacking third is as important as his ability to score goals.
“One of my strengths is that I can hold the ball well under pressure,” Ibrahim said. “So I know and I understand that when I have the ball, Juan Pablo can turn around me to get it and that he understands what he needs to do to get the ball from me.”
Describing himself as “hungry” for action, Ibrahim’s 45 minutes against the Union was the longest stretch of action the player had seen in the last three months of league action. While acknowledging the New England match could earn him more minutes in the playoffs and perhaps next year, the towering striker is focused on helping the team get three points. With a win, the Red Bulls will clinch their first Eastern Conference title since 2000 and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
“We should make New England feel like there is nothing there for them,” Ibrahim said with a smile.
Kristian R. Dyer can be reached for comment at KristianRDyer@yahoo.com and followed at twitter.com/kdyer1012