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Injury Bug Makes its Way Through the Bulls

by Kris Venezia
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A battered NY squad looks to get one in LA

A number of Red Bulls have gone down with injuries early in the 2012 campaign, and while Saturday saw the Red Army pick up three points in Harrison versus New England, the win came at an enormous cost as captain Thierry Henry left the match with a right hamstring strain. The Frenchman was an early season MVP favorite, carrying the Bulls offense with a league leading nine goals and five assists. Henry managed to notch what proved to be the game-winning effort early against the Revolution, before the strain occurred.

“The injury is, of course, a disaster for us with his leadership every training session, the way he puts pressure on teammates to perform and the way he has started [this season] as a goal scorer,” Head Coach Hans Backe said of his captain after the match. 

The list of injuries for New York also includes such big names as Juan Agudelo (torn meniscus), Willman Conde (groin strain), Teemu Tainio (knee), Roy Miller (left knee effusion), Jan Gunnar Solli (toe) and Stephen Keel (stress fracture in back), who were all absent from the match Saturday afternoon. Rafael Marquez also has missed time due to a groin injury, and he is currently dealing with a three-game suspension for a tackle during the match versus San Jose two weeks ago. Luke Rodgers is another player missed by the Bulls, and he is unable to play because he cannot obtain a work visa for the United States. Adding all these names together, Backe is missing three forwards, two midfielders and four defenders. Not exactly an ideal situation to be in when trying to formulate a lineup. Rookie keeper Ryan Meara emphasized the importance of staying tight in the back with so many players out. 

“We work so much with defending shape when the other team has the ball, and it really paid off,” Meara said after Saturday’s victory. “We were tough to break down.”  

With so many key players out, young role players have been forced to step up for the squad. Defender Connor Lade (22 years old) appeared in his second match for New York, and he contributed dramatically by assisting the game’s only tally. Midfielder Victor Palsson came on for the injured Henry in the 20th minute, and the twenty-one year old was valuable in holding possession late in the game. The Icelander almost snagged an assist when he sent in a low cross that Kenny Cooper could not direct into the net. Brandon Barklage (25 years old) earned his first start as a Red Bull; his work in the back four led to New York’s first clean sheet of the year. Ryan Meara also stepped up this weekend with many of his usual defenders gone and produced five saves, all of them coming in the second half. 

“With all the injuries, we need to go on the field with the guys we got,” Meara stated. “We are all confident in ourselves and confident in each other that we can get the job done.” 

The backline will be challenged next week as the Red Army travels west to Los Angeles to face the Galaxy at the Home Depot Center. LA has struggled so far this season, as the club is currently seventh in the Western Conference with 10 points in seven fixtures. However, with the three big names of Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and David Beckham all expected to be fit for the showdown, the west coast squad will be very dangerous on the attack. New York in resides third in the Eastern Conference, with 13 points in eight games. The East vs. West matchup is scheduled to kick off at 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 5.