- Posted: 6:54 PM, September 16, 2011
They knew they were going to have to play without the injured Miller, and suspended Marquez and Solli. But now Henry’s chronic Achilles problems have flared up, while Rodgers _ whose nine-minute cameo Saturday was his first game since July 9 _ felt his plantar fasciitis act up, and threaten his comeback.
It’s the last news the Red Bulls wanted to hear. They’re mired in an eight-game winless skid to fall out of the last wild-card spot for the first time all season. But influential midfielder Teemu Tainio _ back from red card suspension _ says to reach the postseason, they’ll have to treat every tilt like the playoffs.
“We should be (eliminated) by now, the way we’ve been playing… But everything is possible, starting in Dallas,’’ said Tainio. “We have to win. Every game is now like a cup final. We need to start picking up points. Dallas is good, especially at home. It’s going to be hard, but we need points now. That’s just the fact.’’
If they ever needed Tainio, it’ll be tomorrow. Much the same way Rodgers has been the sparkplug for their offense, the 31-year-old for Tottenham midfielder has been the anchor for their defense.
The Red Bulls are 6-3-12 for 30 points when Tainio has started, outscoring their foes 37-26. But in the half-dozen games he’s missed, they’re 0-3-3 for just three points, outscored 5-12. Their midfield was overrun, their defense exposed; tomorrow, he’ll have to help protect a makeshift back line.
“He’s the guy who can calm down the passing game. He never gets forced in the game or gets hectic. He can hold the ball, he can go wide, he can slow it down when we need to. With his experience, he’s a very important player for us,’’ said coach Hans Backe. “He’s not a dirty player, but a cleaner in midfield.’’
And there have been plenty of messes to clean up, against far worse completion than MLS Cup finalist Dallas. The Red Bulls haven’t won since beating woebegone Toronto on July 6, and haven’t won on the road since April 21, with a horrible 1-4-9 mark away from Harrison.
“There’s always pressure. At the end of the day it’s always about getting results; you just have to live with that,’’ said Backe, who could be under fire if his team misses the playoffs. “Every point is crucial. We go down there to win the game. We can’t just sit and play for a result; we need to try to get a win.’’
Dallas _ which has lost three of its last five _ will be without star Brek Shea (yellow card accumulation) and possibly Martin Chavez (injury); and they’re also dealing with the tragic death of Bobby Rhine and having played Wednesday in the CONCACAF Champions League.
“We have to go and win some games. We’re going to have to start to grab points,’’ said Henry, who could face Dallas but is unlikely to play all three of their games in a one-week span. “We need to act instead of reacting. We’re going to have to take care of our game first because at the moment that’s the most difficult thing.
“When you look at our record on the road, it’s not the best one in the league; but we’re going to have to try to win games away. We’re going to a place where it’s very difficult to win, but we’re going to have to manage it.’’
To back up Henry’s point, they’ve coughed up the opening goal in each of the last four games, and conceded 20 first-half goals this year, second-most in MLS. Now it remains to be seen if Henry or Rodgers can play tomorrow, with Backe saying the latter would travel but play no more than a half, if at all.
If both Henry and Rodgers are out, Backe claims they could turn to Mehdi Ballouchy or even DaxMcCarty as support strikers. But either way, the pressure falls on the shoulders of Juan Agudelo, who has four goals in the last nine games _ all since coming back from the Gold Cup _ and is coming off his best outing.
“I think so. That was his best performance so far, those 30 minutes. I just hope he can start the game on the same level, because he’s been for us more of a good sub. He’s changed the game almost every time when he comes on for 30 or 35 minutes; I really hope he can start as he left the game after those 30 minutes,’’ said Backe, adding Agudelo may be pacing himself when he’s in the starting lineup.
“It could be. But it’s also about the opposition being a little bit tired and not 100 percent. But credit to Juan for that performance (vs. Vancouver), because he really was hungry, he was pacy all the time. That’s what you want to see. So hopefully if he starts the game he’s that lively from the beginning.’’
With backup centerback Carlos Mendes expected to fill in at fullback, centerback Stephen Keel will get a rare start. He’s only logged one 45-minute cameo since July 2, but Backe thinks the back four can actually benefit from Keel’s physicality.
“I’ve just got to be ready and take advantage of (my chance),’’ said Keel. “It’s about staying mentally sharp as much as physically…It’s just a matter of being mentally involved and switched-on, because you never know when that opportunity comes.’’
Turns out his opportunity is coming in the biggest game they’ve played yet this year.