Photo by Jim O’Connor/ USA Today Sports
By RYAN TOLMICH
Despite going more than six months without a Major League Soccer start, fullback Richard Eckersley was thrown right back into the fire.
After going all 90 minutes in the first three games of the season before leaving injured in the fourth, Eckersley remained on the bench until last week’s 4-0 loss to the Galaxy, where he played 30 second-half minutes.
However, with the New York Red Bulls facing what was essentially a must-win clash with the Houston Dynamo, Eckersley started and fit right into the Red Bulls back line which maintained a clean sheet in the eventual 1-0 victory that kept the team’s playoff push in full swing.
On the defensive end, Eckersley, who was acquired from Toronto FC in January, was consistent. On the attack, he was menacing, as Eckersley played a series of key passes that led to Red Bulls chances, including the one that set up the team’s lone goal.
“It was my left foot, so I was hoping it would stay in,” Eckersley joked after the game. “It was more (Lloyd Sam’s) movement than my pass.”
Eckersley’s play drew the praise of his teammates, including goalkeeper Luis Roles, who was shocked to hear how long Eckersley had gone between starts.
“Seriously?” asked the Red Bulls goalkeeper. “I thought Eck played great. He’s got a great offensive mindset. He takes the ball, as you can see, and right away looks forward. He’s an experienced player.”
The fullback also impressed goalscorer Thierry Henry, who complimented Eckersley on his work ethic in the face of certain frustration.
“Ecks was tremendous today,” said Henry. “I don’t even know how many minutes he’s played all season. It’s not an easy task to just train knowing that sometimes you won’t be involved.
“I have to give him credit and you have to give him credit,” Henry continued. “He’s been training hard every single time, and you can see that because he was actually fitter than everyone else. He was great… Ecks was brilliant.”
As one of the team’s more experienced defenders, Eckersley’s lack of time on the field has obviously left the fullback disappointed. However, the Englishman admits that the whole process is just part of the job.
“It’s so frustrating because I’ve played in MLS over 100 times,” Eckersley said. “But it’s soccer, you’ve just got to deal with it and you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth. It makes you a better person and a better player as well because you’ve had to come back from a set back.”
As the season winds to a close, the Red Bulls might just need Eckersley to become a better player, as even Eckersley admits that, despite the lack of play time, he has changed since his run of starts to kickoff the campaign.
“It’s moving countries,” Eckersley said. “It’s moving apartments. It’s everything. I probably wasn’t ready to play at the start of the season, but I feel more comfortable now. It’s more like a family now and I’m enjoying the last little bit of the season.”