UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – It doesn’t get much harder than this for Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe.
Half his back line is missing due to international duty (Tim Ream with the US and Rafa Márquez with Mexico), as is his most dynamic midfielder (Dane Richards, Jamaica) and the scorer of the team’s lone goal last Saturday (Juan Agudelo, US).
Factor in a hamstring injury to Designated Player Thierry Henry, and Backe’s team is limping into Saturday afternoon’s match at the Columbus Crew (4 pm ET, Direct Kick, MatchDay Live.
Besieged on both sides, Backe has been forced to replace five starters from Saturday’s season-opening 1-0 win over Seattle. And he has to do so while preparing to play an opponent who last year “embarrassed” his team on the road.
The personnel issues are clearly a source of concern for Backe, who said he's yet to decide on what his forward combination might be be.
The loss of Henry, who suffered a hamstring injury in the first half of Saturday’s match, is doubly crippling. The injury, though, is not similar to the one Henry battled upon arriving in New York midseason that limited the striker to just 11 appearances and two goals in 2010.
[inline_node:331663]“You can call it a hamstring injury, but it’s not really that, Backe told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. "It’s not torn apart. It’s more of tight muscles. I think he will be available to train with us next week.”
Not only is Backe without the services of Henry — his captain and a player with game-changing potential — but also he lacks a forward with any real MLS experience.
The most likely option for Backe is Luke Rodgers, who who didn't play a single game in preseason due to knee and foot injuries. Backe admitted Rogers is not yet match-fit.
“It’s a problem for us," Backe said. "Luke is not at all ready to play 90 minutes. And with the type of player he is, always on the move, it makes it rather difficult for him.”
Backe hopes to get 30 minutes from Rodgers on Saturday and even said he’d consider starting the player, leaving 150 minutes at the forward position still open.
It is likely that Backe could also turn to midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy, whom the coach has often used in a withdrawn forward role, and rookie Corey Hertzog, a first-round pick who made the substitute’s bench but did not play on Saturday.
“It’s difficult to say," Backe said. "I have Corey and I have Luke to gamble with. Then after that, I’d have to look at what midfielders to move."
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer