On Monday, Luke Rodgers had a “50-50” chance to play in the New York Red Bulls’ wild card playoff match against FC Dallas on Wednesday night (9 pm ET, FOX Soccer/TSN 2). On Tuesday, there was no doubt about his availability.
“He’s out,” head coach Hans Backe said. “He will be just available Friday for some session if he responds well. Unfortunately, we have a frightening record without Luke. We only won one game without Luke. But he’s definitely out.”
Rodgers picked up a knee injury in New York's season finale against the Philadelphia Union last Thursday, but he has missed much of his first season in MLS on the trainers' table. The Englishman did not play from Jul. 9 to Sept. 10 while battling plantar fasciitis.
During that stretch, the team went 0-2-4. Since returning, the Red Bulls have gone 4-2-2.
“First, look at the defending game,” Backe said of Rodgers’ impact. “He’s that very, very busy striker who can almost press the back four himself. His energy, work ethic, also the character he is. He’s quite a tough guy, goes into tackles at the level, scores goals. It’s a lot of energy.”
With Thierry Henry serving a suspension against the Philadelphia Union last Thursday, Backe deployed usual right midfielder Dane Richards at striker, moving central midfielder Dax McCarty into Richards’ role.
Backe said on Monday that he would probably slot Richards in at striker once again if Rodgers was unavailable, leaving the right side of the midfield open for McCarty’s return.
“He has definitely handled that very well,” Backe said of McCarty’s switch to the right side. “His timing with his runs, when to tuck in and things like that has been very, very well-timed, and also I would say technically he’s looked very, very composed. So, I think he’s a guy who’s stepped up in the last games. And [with] his work rate, he can run all day long, being a wide player, picking up attacking fullbacks against him. I’m quite pleased with him the last two, three games.”
Road sweet road
Most teams would prefer to play their playoff games at home. The Red Bulls may be the exception.
Last season, the Red Bulls took a 1-0 lead out of the road leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal against the San Jose Earthquake before crashing out with a 3-1 defeat at Red Bull Arena.
“It was a real mess for that game,” Backe said. “We had a lot of players not used – it sounds stupid – to the traffic in New York. [We had] players arriving 45 to 55 minutes before the game because of traffic. The whole situation was a mess.”
“I think [it’s helpful to be on the road against Dallas],” Backe added. “Even if we’ve been winning more at home… I have a feeling that we can play better away than at home. I don’t know why, but that’s just the feeling.”