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Red Bulls face shortage at forward vs. Crew

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.

[inline_node:327825] 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.

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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 After being acquired by New York just before the trade deadline last year, Ballouchy was slotted into a withdrawn forward role right behind Henry.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