New York Red Bulls fans were no strangers to the hype that was slowly but surely building over the course of last week. Interviews, videos and photos began to show signs toward the progress of Luke Rodgers as he continued to rehab from a foot injury that kept him off the pitch since early July.
Rodgers was practicing. Rodgers was ready. Rodgers would play.
On Saturday, for the first time since a 90-minute outing against D.C. United on July 9, Rodgers was seen mixing it up with the team during pregame warm ups at Red Bull Arena. Coach Hans Backe penciled him in as a sub heading into the meeting against Vancouver, but any amount of playing time was still up in the air.
“I told him I felt good in training [Friday],” Rodgers said. “And the plan was hopefully, if needed, to get on for a bit.”
The plan came to form late in the match when Rodgers subbed in for Dax McCarty at the 81st minute with the score tied at one apiece. The crowd was quick to recognize his return with a collection of cheers, just as they did during his in-game warm ups as he jogged past the South Ward.
“It gives you a big boost,” Rodgers said of the crowd’s support. “It really helps at this stage and hopefully I can pick myself up and get back playing.”
Rodgers was met with a few tests during his short time on the pitch, including a number of foot races against Vancouver defenders and the challenge of controlling the pace while the Red Bulls were on the attack. There was little indication that he was favoring his left foot in either of those scenarios.
“I feel good. I only got 10 minutes, but 10 minutes at that pace it’s like 45 minutes in what I’ve been doing in training,” he said. “I was pleased to get back out and it’s a positive step forward.”
Patience is, at times, the hardest thing for a player when it comes to recovering from an injury. Goalkeeper Frank Rost admitted that last week, and Rodgers echoed the same sentiment. The English striker was met with minor setbacks over the last two months as he tried to return sooner than his injured foot would allow. Time for the proper rehabilitation remained the necessary evil, but that didn’t alter Rodgers’ aspirations one bit in Saturday’s action.
“It would’ve been nice to come on and get a goal, the winning goal or something,” Rodgers said. “I thought I was going to do it. Actually, I’ve been saying it all week. Never happened, hopefully it’ll happen next week against Dallas or maybe another game.”
Rodgers will look to get that goal this Saturday as the Red Bulls head to Dallas for an 8:30 p.m. ET start on MSG.