MONTCLAIR, N.J. — The New York Red Bulls have a simple equation facing them for Thursday night’s crucial clash with Philadelphia (8 pm ET, ESPN2/ESPN Deportes, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
Win, and they’re in the playoffs. Lose, and it’s out of their hands.
It seems simple enough, but throw in the loss of suspended leading scorer and captain Thierry Henry, and the need placed on the rest of the team to come up big in his absence suddenly defines their season.
“The lads are focused, it’s in black and white,” striker Luke Rodgers told MLSsoccer.com at training on Wednesday. “In my eyes, we can’t be in a better situation, we can only let ourselves down. Win and you’re in. It’s up to us now, there’s no more hiding. I’m focused. I’m quite positive we’re going to win the game, and I’m really looking forward to it.”
With Henry out of the starting lineup after his red card hampered a 2-0 Red Bulls loss at Sporting Kansas City, the question of where the goals will come from is perhaps the most pressing issue for the Red Bulls.
Rodgers, whose nine goals this season rank him second on the team behind Henry’s 14, is confident he can provide the main goal-scoring threat in Henry’s absence.
“Missing Titi is a massive loss and any team would struggle without having him,” Rodgers said. “I don’t want to be coming into training on Friday out of the playoffs. I don’t want that. So I’m going to do everything I can to make sure that’s not the case.”
The two forwards starting Thursday night have still not been decided, according to Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe. Both Dane Richards and Juan Agudelo are in line to replace Henry for New York’s pivotal clash with the Union, and Richards hinted Tuesday that he’s likely the man to get the starting nod.
Backe, meanwhile, is keeping his cards close to his chest.
“We have a lot of good options going into the game tomorrow,” Backe said. “I have not decided, but those three guys are the options. We have Luke, Juan and Dane; two out of those three will start the game.”
As for the opposition, the Union are desperate for three points to try and clinch the top seed in the Eastern Conference in just their second MLS season. It’s a position all too familiar to the Red Bulls, who held the same post last year.
“They want to win because then they will have home advantage in the playoffs, which is huge,” Backe said. “They are a great counterattacking side. I don’t think they will come out and gamble. I think they will continue to be a solid, well-organized team like they have been.”