BY DAVE MARTINEZ
Earlier this season, a decimated New York Red Bulls lineup managed to tie a club record for consecutive victories with five wins in a row despite heavy losses to their starting eleven. Bench players, newcomers and rookies all helped keep the Red Bulls' season afloat, securing three shutouts while outscoring opponents, 8-3.
Red Bulls coach Hans Backe credited role players such as Tyler Ruthven, Connor Lade, Brandon Barklage and Dax McCarty for the impressive run, but was always quick to point out the role luck played in the team’s achievement
Has luck run out?
“It’s annoying (to play without guys because of injuries.),” admitted Backe after the Red Bulls' 2-0 loss to the New England Revolution on Sunday. “We haven’t played two games in a row with a full-strength team, and if you look now with the guys – with [Jan Gunnar] Solli out, [Markus] Holgersson out, [Heath] Pearce out, [Rafa] Marquez out, [Teemu] Tainio out, Henry out – that is six starters.
"So in a way, you can say that the depth this year is very good. These guys played quite well a month ago, and I think we won five in a row with almost the same team. But, at the end of the day, you cannot pick up wins as we did earlier.
“We could have gotten a tie, but we are without six regulars. I cannot expect much more from these guys. They did what they could do with the energy they showed in the second half. Of course, we are too short-handed.”
As it stands, the Red Bulls are now in the midst of a dramatic slowdown to their year. The team still boasts an impressive 9-5-4 record overall, but are currently on a 1-2-3 record over their past six matches. Their latest letdown may have been the most damning indicator yet that the Red Bulls simply cannot continue to sustain such depletion to their roster.
Thierry Henry, who recently returned to the lineup after battling hamstring issues, has now picked up another injury that further prohibits his ability to play under certain conditions.
“He has a problem with his calf,” Backe said. “Every time he does turf games, he picks up a calf issue. So we cannot play him on these kinds of turf.”
Fellow designated player Rafa Marquez also missed the trip to New England with a calf strain. With the coming three-game homestand, resting Marquez in preparation for these matches was the wisest move in the eyes of the team.
However, that didn’t stop him from traveling out to Tamarit in Tarragona, Spain to take part in the wedding of former Barcelona teammate Andres Iniesta.
Even New York’s latest acquisition, Heath Pearce, who was recently rewarded a spot in the MLS All Star’s starting eleven, won’t be available to play for at least the next two weeks. The versatile Pearce, who can perform in any position on the backline and the defensive midfield role as well, was brought into the team in order to cushion against the injuries that were decimating the side. Now, he is yet another victim to the injury bug that has haunted this team all year long.
For now, Backe hopes to squeeze as much out of his reserves as he can until the team nurses its way back to health.
“Hopefully when it comes into October, November, we’ll play off some things like that,” he said. “[The reserves] have got good minutes, competitive minutes in this league, and that will help us if we pick up injuries. I think now it’s just about looking for three, four more weeks and probably all of the guys will be back then.”
Until then, one would have to wonder whether luck will continue to be on the side of this team.