The formula was the same for the Red Bulls on Saturday night as it was last year en route to their Eastern Conference title.
They got the goal they needed, and then they used a tight, compact defense to will themselves to a massive total-team effort and 1-0 win over FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas.
It wasn’t the prettiest win of the season for the Red Bulls, but it may have been the most important. Not only was it just their second win away from home in 14 games, but it also snapped an eight-game winless streak in league play that dated back to a 5-0 win over Toronto FC on July 6.
One of the heroes that night was finally back at it again for the Red Bulls on Saturday: Luke Rodgers. The English striker started for the first time since July 9 after returning last week from his battle with plantar fasciitis, and his game-winner off an assist from Juan Agudelo in the 36th minute signaled that he can provide much-needed boost for New York’s postseason ambitions.
“When Luke has been playing, it is so, so important for us,” head coach Hans Backe said. “He has been phenomenal for us and of course as I said, it’s about the energy. He’s a tough guy, he wins the 50-50 balls and he scores goals.”
The Rodgers goal was also huge for the team’s psyche too, as New York grabbed their first lead in league play since Aug. 13 when Thierry Henry put the Red Bulls up early in a 2-2 game with Chicago.
And they did it without suspended stars Rafa Márquez and Jan Gunnar Solli as well as striker Thierry Henry, who stayed back in New York due to injury. Defender Roy Miller also missed the game due to injury.
“I can just give credit to all our players with three new players in the back four, the attitude the spirit. We had to defend a lot but we did it well,” Backe said. “This is the way we probably need to do [it] on the road. We just need to get back to the basics, to the formation. Fill in for each other and play a bit dirty.”
Rodgers was questionable on Friday after training as his injury flared up again, but he was still the difference for New York. Hitting FC Dallas on the counterattack, Agudelo carried the ball into the FCD penalty area and right-footed a pass across the face of goal.
Somehow, Rodgers maneuvered around his marker and managed to get a foot to the pass, rolling a slow shot past the inside post of Kevin Hartman’s goal.
Rodgers was subbed out at halftime but his teammates clung on to the lead in what was a hard-fought road win.
“It’s just the best performance I’ve seen in a long, long time. The defending was just unbelievable. We played as a team tonight, we just looked solid,” Rodgers said. “It was a massive, massive, win.”