With a depleted roster, the New York Red Bulls fought back to earn a 1-1 tie in Vancouver.
The Monday Gaffer looks at the major themes from the draw after the Red Bulls earns a much-needed point ahead of losing five regulars for the Gold Cup.
1. Testing the Depth
Since the middle of March, head coach Hans Backe has been talking about needing to adjust expectations for this year, due to the number of international callups for this summer’s Gold Cup. Five regulars will miss league play while with their national teams.
On Saturday in Canada, this was exasperated by the absence of midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy (visa issues) and leading scorer Thierry Henry (right knee).
Backe played midfielder Dwayne De Rosario at forward and forward Juan Agudelo at left midfield, in addition to regular right back Jan Gunnar Solli on the right wing and centerback Carlos Mendes at right back.
“Missing some players that makes the difference so we have to be pretty satisfied with the result,” Backe said.
2. Winless in Five
After a fast and furious start in March and April, the Red Bulls didn’t win in the month of May, getting four ties and a loss in that stretch. And Saturday could have been an ugly one for New York: playing before a sold-out Empire Field, on an artificial field, with a depleted lineup and in the midst of a poor run of form.
Instead of folding, New York played a physical game and won their 50-50 battles to show heart in earning the draw.
“It was important we didn’t lose, that’s the main thing,” striker Luke Rodgers said. “We could have come here, our heads could have been down. We could have come here, got beat.”
3. The Debutants
In the second half, two Red Bulls players made their MLS debuts and contributed to the tie.
Former University of Maryland midfielder Matt Kassel, a former academy player, was slotted into right back and performed admirably well in his new role and he nearly a scored a goal from distance in his league debut. Austin da Luz, who suffered an injury-plagued rookie season last year, came in at left midfield.
Kassel, da Luz and other young players such as John Rooney and Sacir Hot will be called on over the next few weeks to get more results for the club.
“It’s a great chance for young guys to prove themselves,” Kassel said. “This is a chance for people to show coach and the coaching staff what we can do.”
4. Rodgers’ Form
Rodgers is known as a withdrawn striker who does the dirty work and makes runs to open space for other players. But his movement off the ball is getting rewarded in New York with quality chances, and he notched his fifth goal of the year.
“It was just a reaction goal really. I was in the box, right place, right time,” Rodgers said. “I was really glad it went in.”
A player who was a bit of an unknown when he was signed in January, Rodgers has turned into a cornerstone of the club.
Kristian R. Dyer can be followed at twitter.com/KristianRDyer.